It is a rare thing to be able to look forward and to see the future. Some people have made their living from being able to tell others their future, or at least being able to convince other people that they could see into their future. Accurately being able to tell what will be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
But that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m not talking about fortune telling or Nostradamus predicting the advent of pocket calculators or the birth of Isis.
No, it is a shockingly rare gift to be able to seize onto an idea, to encompass an idea and to spin out of nothing, just what is in our heads and that is all too often nothing, to spin out a future, to see the child grown and graduated, married, to see grandchildren and a legacy. To look upon an acorn and to see the tree it may become and then the dinner table at which a thousand meals might be enjoyed with your family it may one day be is something that we do not appreciate.
We buy the new thing. Someone else conceives of it.
But this is not who we are.
We have been made in the image of God, and the image of God is the image of the creator, who made the world and all that is in it, who reached into the swirling chaos at the beginning of things and drew out the universe by force of will and by dint of creativity alone.
Why then is it, do you suppose, that we are always looking backwards and thinking of what once was. We have phrases like “the good old days” and “back in the day” and we say “remember when” and “when I was a kid” and we describe a scene we wish we could recreate.
How much less rich our lives would be if God never did a new thing, never ventured out from the tried and true and saw a vision in the divine head and made it so.
How much less grace would you feel if God fetched back and drew up another set of commandments, another rule book, another set of instructions in order to bring the people from the darkness into the light?
How much less than Godly would that be? How much less than we have all come to expect?
No wonder we killed Christ. He violated the rules, set things right because of love and not because of fairness or because of justice. Nobody got paid back for their sins, nobody got recompense, punishment; we didn’t feel the power of the just and righteous man, the shiver of schadenfreude when an oppressor got their just reward.
It was a new thing that came into the world on that morning. It was no longer we who were responsible for the outcome of the final judgment, Christ lifted that away and the thing was, we could then live without that burden hanging over us.
It is hard to appreciate, I think, these days, that relief from the burden of the law because when we think of the Law we use our only earthly corollary, the laws of our land. So when we think of breaking those laws we think of an act of will, an act of desperation, an act we commit with full consent and full responsibility.
That’s how it works. As TV detective Baretta’s theme song used to say, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” and so it is so often when we think of the Law of God, with sin as the transgression of that law.
But it is not so. Imagine if you will walking down the street, just fourth avenue downtown. You parked your car in one of the conveniently located and inexpensive parking garages, or ramps as they call them in the Midwest, you are walking to the Peet’s coffee on fourth, across from the Barnes and Noble and you see, walking toward you, an attractive member of the opposite sex.
Now, most of us are evolved enough to not make comment, to not leer or wolf whistle, but none of us are beyond appreciating the attractiveness of one of God;s children, after all, we tell ourselves, to do so would be to show disrespect to one of God’s more comely creations.
So long as you do not do anything obvious, you are okay in the eyes of the laws of men. We only count the things you do and a lot of them are not even illegal, just frowned upon in polite society.
Jimmy Carter demonstrated an above average understanding of the Law of God in his playboy interview last century. He understood that the faintest flickering of lust, the slightest hint of covetousness, the barest first inklings of a fantasy brought you smack into sin, no actions required.
And in the human law there are individual laws, individual aspects of the behavior that are proscribed and some are little ones, misdemeanors, literally wrong behaviors, while others are more serious, felonies we call them and while the world labored under the same delusion for centuries, separating the deadly sins, the mortal sins from the misdemeanors, it just is not so.
You see, that system of justice only works of the punishment can be equally flexible. We have county jails, we have state prisons, we have federal prisons, we have supermax prisons, heck, we’ve refined punishment pretty well on this side of heaven, so it is no wonder we attach the same gradations to the law of God that we attach to the laws of men.
But God is the creative type and a new thing was born on that morning so long ago and so recently celebrated.
You see the punishment is all the same, no variance. Heaven / Hell. It is a binary system which means you are either in or you are out.
Back to our scene on the mean streets of Santa Rosa:
Our system says that so long as you do not do anything overt, you are fine. The Law of God says that anything, anything less than 100% purity of heart is a transgression and since there is only one punishment, it would be better if you didn’t.
No wonder the hermits separated themselves from the world, it seems that if you wanted to be close to God, you’d have to be far from temptation.
That’s the world into which Christ comes. All or nothing, righteous or damned. That’s the law.
Imagine in the beginning of things, when there was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
Through Him all things were made, the plants and the people and the rocks and the stars and not a thing that was made was made except through Him. Think of the love, think of the passionate care the Word must have had for the creation, to have participate in it, molded and crafted it by act of will and force of creativity.
Now imagine it in the condition I just described. Your children have the will to act wisely and justly, they just lack the ability. You have shown them the way and yet they seem utterly at sea, lost because they cannot find the way themselves, no matter how fine a map you give them.
Would you go back to work and try to make another, better map for them, a more explicit set of rules that evolved with them? After all, if we got another commandment or two there are some specific questions I could stand to have answered, genetic engineering, encountering alien life forms, population control, those kinds of things that were not even on the horizon when the Word became flesh.
But the pain we lived under, the threat, the worry, the uncertainty; it made the life that was planned for us impossible to live, there was just too much holding us back.
Holding us back is an excellent way to look at it, I should think. The Law is the practice of examining the past, looking for flaws, judging behavior. It is rooted in the past because it comes from our past, someone before us wrote it or wrote it down at least and so we are chained to the past by the power of the law, it holds us back, holds us backwards.
From the very beginning, this was not what was intended.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
Hard to do that when you are constantly trying either to not sin or, equally damning, trying to explain away your sin, to rationalize it away so that it might not taint you. How can you live the life God intended for you if you are so shackled?
So into this world the Word became flesh. Sure salvation and the promises of God fulfilled are all nice theological rationales for the incarnation, but leaving that all aside, the Word became flesh so that we might live, creatively, fearlessly, filled with hope and the knowledge of the Lord.
We could look forward into the promised future.
Because the destination is assured; by the grace and good pleasure of God we have been saved through faith and so our final chapter is being saved for us, a bookmark placed at the end simply awaiting our arrival.
It is time to write the chapters between now and then.
It is time to stop looking back at what once was and pining away after better times. For us, on this side of heaven the clock only runs one direction. The world has changed and there is little or no chance of ever running it back and spending the pages of the book of our lives looking backwards will leave those pages filled with nothing good, nothing but the sad story of a people who did not live.
This is not the inheritance of the children of God. This is not why Christ became flesh and the Word dwelt among us.
We were meant for better things. We were destined to be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, says Jeremiah. We have received grace upon grace and with that grace, with that freedom, we need only look forward to see our home on the horizon. Between us and the fulfillment of every promise there is the road ahead. We already know that we walk in the love and grace of God, we know the mystery of God’s will, we know that it is in relationship with the world and not avoidance of the world that we find the face of Christ among the people of God.
What is holding us back?
I suppose I was wrong at the beginning when I said it was rare to be able to see the future. What is difficult is being bold enough to go out and to build it. But if we who received him, who believed in his name, to whom he gave power to become children of God, if we cannot be that bold, then who can?
I say God’s will is not thwarted, we will be God’s hands and feet and we will build the tomorrow we are called to build, what was supposed to be here all along, from the beginning, with the Word.