The Carpenter

CarpenterI dedicate this to Winston Ruiters, a carpenter I met yesterday. We spoke about God, cave paintings, my African ancestors and some other things.

Whilst thinking of Winston early this morning, I was reminded of another carpenter.

This man loved God more than any other human ever had. Yet he chose a carpentry shop instead of a religious seminary to prepare himself for God’s work.

This man had greater abilities to build a religious empire than all the world’s televangelists put together, yet he never took up an offering.

This man had greater stature than the Pope, yet he hated organised religion.

This man could assemble a crowd in seconds, yet he avoided them.

This man had more wisdom and knowledge than one can find in all the world’s libraries, yet he had no title or credentials.

This man could actually do the miracles that faith healers can only dream of, yet he rebuked those who wanted him to hold a miracle crusade.

This man had the ability to bring God into politics, yet he took Him out of it.

This man managed to attract the attention of the rich and famous, yet he chose to befriend the poor.

This man had the ability to save his life, yet he gave it as a ransom for many.

So I ask you, how can any human being not love this man?

A Meditation on Time

Dali Time SmallestOne of the best places to hide is behind the future. The future holds more promise than the present or the past, and so it lends itself to magical thinking. The promise of the serpent is always a promise of the future, and so Satan himself hides behind it. There is no smokescreen quite so effective as the future. We can hide our true selves behind it, and we can hypnotise people with it.

The way of deliverance is to understand that God exists in the present, and that he wishes to interact with us in the present. The cure for hypocrisy is through an engagement with the present. It is very difficult to lie in the presence of the present, for the present is real. He who lives in the present is not easily fooled by others, and least of all by himself. The person of the present is honest. He sees the world as it is, not as it can be.

What about the future then? What about the hope of the Christian, both for his work in this world and his rest in the world beyond?

The answer is simple. The true future lies in the present, and it is beheld through the present. When the future is beheld apart from the present, as Eve did when she blotted the eternal and ever-present word of God out of her mind, it is on the same par as the illusion of the magician. The appearance of magic depends on the disappearance of that which is present and real. Herein lies the secret of magic. You can only show it to those whose eyes you have first blinded. Detract from the real and present, and the illusion will take its place.

When the present is beheld, the future becomes its child and not its enemy. The only people who have some sense of mastery over their future, such as the wise man of Proverbs who works his land, are those who have the firmest grasp of the present. But the fool of Proverbs is the one who chases fantasies, and who will have his fill of poverty. He is the one who has made the present a child of the future, and in the process he has forfeited both the present and the future. To tranquilise oneself through dreaming is to become blind and numb to the demands of the present.

Satan blinds us to the present, for God is in the present. What distinguishes Christianity from other religions is the arrival of a kingdom that remains out of reach for all other religious pilgrims. God is with us, and he is so in the now, not the tomorrow. The Christian’s pilgrimage is a walk with Christ, not one towards Christ. And so Christ was the greatest proponent of the present. “Do not worry about tomorrow”, he said, and likened such concerns with the world of the gentiles. Whilst Philip was asking for and anticipating a view of the Father, Christ was teaching Philip that he was busy looking at the Father. I am not in your future, Philip, but in your present.

In fact, the very word “presence” is derived from the present. It is not possible to be present and anticipated at the same time. For Christ to be “with us” is to no longer wait for him, or anticipate him in some idealised future setting. This is why Christ answered: “The kingdom is in your midst”, when asked “when” the kingdom of God would come. (I am not referring here to the Lord’s return, the new heavens and earth, and our anticipation thereof. Such an expectation is entirely legitimate, even compulsory. My focus above is on the presence of Christ in the here and now, and the present reality of the Kingdom of God.)

This explains the prohibition of images in the Bible. The image compensates for the absence of the real, and so it magnifies that absence. To make an image of God is to declare that God is not with us, and that we should at least have the freedom to interact with a projection of him. Of course the lure of the image has to do with the anticipation that the projection would at some stage be replaced by the real, that the image would become alive as it were, and so the image becomes our link to the future and our escape from the present.

Idolatry is always intended as an escape, and so it relies on images to make the ideal concrete. The image captures the imagination’s flight and forces it from an idea into a reality. It subjects the evasive God to our power and control, and turns the future from the unknown to the known. In its final analysis, idolatry denies the sufficiency of God, the perfection of his provision and the completion of his works.

Of course there is one other way to escape from the present, and that is through the past. Here, too, Satan is the guide on the journey. If he cannot get us to join him in constructing an idolatrous future, he incites us to dwell on the past. This he does through accusation, and oftentimes through nostalgia, but that is another story for another day.

A Meditation on Mediation

meditateA meditation for the morning: (The language is archaic and non-inclusive, I know. Please ignore, or skip the reading if you can’t. It is an extract from a personal journal and was never intended for a blog. The only reason I’m publishing it is that it has greatly assisted me in my understanding of spiritual matters, and that there may be some solitary soul out there who may also benefit by reading it.)

All of life is mediation. The reason is the alienation of man from himself, his fellow man, his environment and his very own speech.

Man relates with himself through other men. He sees and feels himself based on what other men want, not what he himself wants. He is a stranger to himself, and he only finds familiarity by looking to his neighbor. His neighbor is the standard, the bridge to himself. And so he lives through his neighbor. His neighbor is his mediator to himself. If he cannot imitate his neighbor he sinks into isolation. He loses connection with himself.

Man relates with his fellow man through pretense. He has to pretend that he is like his fellow man in order to reach his fellow man. His mask is his bridge to community. He does not realize that he himself is a neighbor to his fellow man, that he himself is perceived as being original. That is how strong his pretense is. He deceives not only his neighbor but also himself. He does not see himself as someone else’s beginning. He remains an actor, for without the charade he ceases to exist.

Man relates with his environment through hope. His environment provides him with the means to build a mask, and so he is attracted to his environment. He does not see nature as it is. He sees nature as it can be. Nature presents the bridge to the wish dream, and the hope of the wish dream the bridge to nature. Man’s relationship with nature is the relationship of the wood carver who robs the life of the tree to make an idol.

And so man lives happily in nature and next to his fellow man, thinking that he has established a community of reciprocal appreciation. But man is eluded. There is no community, only a constant interaction between actors on a stage. There is no reality, only a lie. It is for this lie that man lives. Man cannot tolerate the truth, for the truth means that he ceases to exist.

The unmediated life is the life that Christ brought to the world. It is life itself, not a pretense of life or a description of life. This life is its own mediator. I am the life, Christ said. Christ is the mediator, Paul said. And so this life mediates itself.

What this means is that the original relationship with man himself, with other men and with his environment is restored in Christ. In Christ we do not relate with ourselves through other men. We relate with ourselves through Christ. We see ourselves as he sees us. And so a direct and unmediated relationship with ourselves becomes possible. We no longer have to pay an indulgence to be accepted by ourselves. We become acceptable through Christ. There is no longer any bridge that leads to ourselves. Christ is the bridge. The man in Christ loves himself as Christ loved him. He does not need to impress himself from a distance. There is no distance. Man embraces himself. Man loves himself. Man is happy with himself. This is not the toxic love that man has for the image that he has created of himself. No, this is the unmediated love of an unmediated self for an unmediated self.

The relationship with man’s neighbor is changed. Christ now becomes the bridge to the neighbor. Man relates to his neighbor honestly. He does not need to visit his neighbor as a pretender, because he loves himself as Christ has loved him. He loves his neighbor in the same way. He sees his neighbor for who re really is. He sees behind the pretense. He loves his neighbor, and he disregards the mask. He has become a true neighbor, not a fellow pretender.

Man now sees nature for what it is. Nature is no longer beautiful because it enhances the image of man. It is beautiful because it was created by Christ and for Christ. Christ is the door to man’s environment as he is the door to man’s neighbor and to man himself.

The man of no mediation sees the world as it is. The veil has been removed. His relationship with nature and men is now direct and original.

But it does not stop here. The meaning of words is changed. In a sense all words are instruments of mediation. In a sense all words are adjectives. They all describe something, even if they are verbs or personal pronouns. But when mediation ceases words are no longer descriptors. That which is signified by them begins to describe its very self. For the man of no mediation the things are given their own voices. They reveal themselves. And so this man is reluctant to describe what he sees, for he understands that words cannot convey reality. He understands that one final Word summarised and included all other words in Himself. What is needed is a private meeting between men and things, and so the man of no mediation removes himself to make this happen. He is slow to speak. When he does speak he proclaims Christ, for Christ is more intelligible than the words of men. Christ is the Word.

The man of no mediation sees no need to explain Christ. He is not an apologist. Rather, he seeks to enforce the explanations of Christ. This is what it means to preach Christ. It is to allow him to speak, not to muzzle him in order to speak on behalf of him.