Friday, November 26, 2010

the unburdening of transparency

I don’t think I can do it. I find it easy to type up the tasks that Christianity is demanding of me and explain them in a way I can understand, etc. But it is an entirely different matter to live them in actuality. Isn’t this the issue with modern day Christianity? I am immediately reminded of the chapter in Dostoevsky’s Братья Карамазовы entitled “The Grand Inquisitor”, which if you haven’t read it yet, you simply must because it is one of the most powerful and beautiful things I have ever read.

Ivan Karamazov, an intellectual, is having lunch with his brother Alyosha, a devout Russian Orthodox monk and they are discussing spiritual matters, specifically the goodness of God. Ivan argues that God is not an all good God because suffering children exist in the world. A God that allows children to suffer is not a God he will accept. Even though he claims to believe in God, he says he faithfully “returns him the ticket” and will not abide by His creation. Ivan goes on to say that he does have “faith like a child that all will be made up for” in the end and that in eternity we will see the contradictions and human atrocities that have been committed on Earth in reality did serve as good and perfect gifts from above, but at the same time, he is not satisfied with everything being solved in eternity and demands an explanation for the present time and since one is not offered he simply refuses God on these terms.

This is not the curious part however. Alyosha claims his brother is in rebellion and that if he is looking for one who would have the right to forgive for all the injustice in the world, there is one: Christ and He gave his innocent blood for everything. At the mention of Christ, Ivan proposes that he has a story to tell, the story of The Grand Inquisitor. The setting Seville, Spain during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century and Jesus has returned, unannounced and only for a moment, and even though he made no declaration of his presence, everyone at once knew who was walking among them. He began performing small miracles in the streets, even bringing a small child back from the dead. At the sight of this man performing miracles, the Grand Inquisitor, who saw everything and knew at once who he was, had him arrested. The questioning begins and the Inquisitor asks repeatedly, “Why have you come here now?” claiming that they had everything under control and didn’t need him to return because they have taken care of everything. What he was afraid of was the freedom of faith that Jesus would return to his people. The Inquisitor claims that that freedom wouldn’t be necessary because no man wants that burden and gladly would give that burden over to them. Passages from Matthew 4, where Jesus is tested in the wilderness by Satan, are cited and explained in reference to the issue of human freedom. He discusses the three tests, but I’m mostly concerned with the first test.

after fasting forty days and forty nights, he [Jesus] was hungry. the tempter came to him and said, ‘if you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread’. Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘people do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3)’ – Matthew 4:2-4

Here Jesus is denying earthly bread for heavenly bread. How often is that the case where a person, existing, will deny an earthly reward or pleasure for the pleasures and rewards of heaven? Isn’t it just too difficult? Yet, that is precisely how we must act: we are to reject the earthly bread for what is higher, as Jesus did. The Inquisitor states that he is relieving man of this terrible burden and they are humbly placing that burden at their feet. They, the Inquisitors, are the providers of earthly bread and make sure that when man has laid that burden at their feet, they are ultimately unaware of the consequences and still they continue to think themselves free. Yet, they have become nothing but mere slaves to the world. But this is no easy task. Imagine fasting for forty days and then denying bread when it is offered to you. This takes strength of will and severe patience, yet because Christ overcame such a test, we too have the ability to overcome this same test.

We repeatedly give away our gift of freedom to the world because it scares us to know that we are responsible and accountable to ourselves and before God. We would rather give that burden away and make excuses that attempt to justify our weaknesses and we accept the earthly bread without a second thought. Isn’t it so much easier to blame our shortcomings on our births, our heritage, our age, our circumstances? When in fact we have this beautiful gift of freedom that allows us to take this responsibility and thus enter into a relation to God by accepting this gift and blessing. We begin to have a better understanding of ourselves and our relation to God and others once we have understood that we are responsible and accountable for ourselves and that we do have a guide that goes with us so we are not alone in our freedom.

Freedom is a burden, but it is a beautiful burden because we no longer need to make excuses for anything because we are who we are in truth, in the present, and no longer hiding away from ourselves. That is the case isn’t it? We give up our freedom because we wish to hide from ourselves, our true selves. We would rather assume this persona, this mask, because it is much easier that way and we are relieved of the fear of openness and transparency. Because that is what we are afraid of the most, isn’t it? Our freedom forces us to be transparent and no longer concealed and that terrifies us to our core. We would prefer to cover ourselves with leaves and hideaway in the garden from God’s presence. But as Adam and Eve soon learned: there is no hiding from God. Sooner or later, transparency is demanded of you, of every one of us. When that time comes, I ask you, which bread are you accepting? Are you really free?

it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. stand firm, then, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery – Galatians 5:1

Notice how Paul says that the burden is not freedom but one’s giving up of one’s freedom. Though the task of transparency before yourself and God is a fearful one, its reward is eternal and its significance for you as an existing individual in the world a necessary for the life of faith. One who is not responsible for himself and lives as if he is a third party observing his actions at a distance is not really living. He is only a shadow of a person. So, one can even see the temporal benefit of freedom, because only in acceptance of one’s freedom are we truly living. The either/ors of existence, our choices and ability to choose, give us a passion for living because through action we are living out our gift and blessing from God, our freedom, which, as all things, is a good and perfect gift from above. So now the difficulty of Christianity presents itself: living it in truth.

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