Friday, August 7, 2015

Reflections on Human Brokenness

There is a rare psychological disorder called Pica in which the afflicted have a compulsion to eat inedible things. I once saw an interview of an individual suffering from this harmful abnormality who would regularly eat the contents of ashtrays. They knew their behavior was disturbing and detrimental, but they just couldn't help themselves. Humanity was created with an innate taste for Christ, the Tree of Life. God knew that once we tasted darkness we would lose our taste for everything else. So like any good father He forbade it. Believing a lie, humanity partook, and we have been craving acid, excrement, and ash ever since. The resulting toxins have poisoned our souls—always thirsty—always hungry—never satisfied. Jesus' ministry of restoration is about reviving, even resurrecting, our desire and capacity to drink deep of Him, the source of Living Water, and to feast on the Bread come down from Heaven. For this is eternal life (John 17:3).

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). God seems to see the rejection of Life and the pursuit of death as two separate follies.  More than just foolishly refusing to partake of necessary nutrition, we actively seek to ingest poison. “Come, all you who are thirsty,” says the Lord, “come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:1-2).  We're generously invited to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8a). C.S. Lewis rightly says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus elaborates on the nature of sin. He speaks of sin as if it is something living inside of us as a desire, a craving, before it manifests as an action. He expounds on the command regarding sexual faithfulness, for example, by explaining how the poison of adultery has already entered our soul before bodies ever touch. The deed has been done in the “privacy” of our mind when we chose to feast on a lie that promised nourishment. We often address the outside of the cup or dish, but it is the inside that is like a tomb full of rotting bones. All this time humanity thought sin was a list of bad things that we ought to avoid when it is, in fact, our appetites that have gone off the tracks. Jesus is crystal clear when He says that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. Likewise, James asks, “can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” This once and for all puts to bed the notion that we are “good people” who sometimes do bad things. We must stop trying to merely manage our sin and allow Jesus, the Great Physician, to address and heal our spiritual Pica.

I've heard people speak of Heaven as a place where they will be able to gorge themselves on all the rich foods they want without gaining any weight or becoming sick to their stomach. This sort of juvenile idea is missing the point of paradise restored and the present nature of fallen humanity. Instead of gorging ourselves without consequences, we'll know how to be satisfied with just enough. It's not the pesky consequences that are the trouble. It's the evil craving that wants more than its share.

Broken humans are given over to proportional excess. That is to say, it's not enough for me to merely have more than my share, I must also have more than you. My share is only acceptable or intolerable as it relates to your share. I believe Jesus reveals one of the most despicable yet common traits of fallen humanity with His story about the landowner and the day-laborers. If you remember the story, the landowner goes out early to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. He finds a crew, agrees on a fair price for a day's work, and sends them out to harvest his crops. He continues to recruit workers throughout the day, and hires the last batch with only an hour left until quitting time. When the day is done, the landowner reaches for his wallet. Beginning with the Johnny-come-lately group, he hands them each a day's wage. The guys that put in a full hard day's work are almost jumping out of their skin with excitement after seeing the landowner pay so much to the laborers who only worked one hour. They are certain that a huge bonus is coming their way. When the landowner gets to them, however, he promptly hands them what they had originally agreed upon, which just so happens to be what everyone got. The murmuring begins almost immediately. The landowner asks what the problem is, and the workers explain their frustration. The landowner reminds them that he's given them a fair wage—which they had originally happily agreed to—and it's only now, after witnessing his generosity, that they have become disgruntled. Jesus shines a spotlight on the putrid death that lurks in the hearts of humanity. “is your eye evil because I am good?” Wretched creatures that we are, it is common for us to feel envy, malice, and hatred toward those who have good fortune. We regularly feel robbed or slighted by others' good looks, better paying job, abundance of friends, etc. What an indicator of the evil at our core when generosity, others' good fortune—goodness—(which does nothing to affect our personal status) incites envious hatred in us. Suddenly our lot in life is not as agreeable as we had originally thought it.  Even in our darkest hour, why can't we simply gain joy from the good fortune of others? Perhaps we are broken beyond what we would care to admit.

Even in our rebirth, after God has poured His Spirit into us, accompanied by new desires and new cravings, we find that the old cravings linger. A war between the new life within us and the corrupted flesh that seeks to snuff it out rages daily. The Spirit of God and a rancid zombie-like corpse cannot peacefully coexist, and so we must daily put our flesh to death in order for the new cravings to take. Even the Apostle Paul finds that though he has been given a desire for filet mignon, he regularly finds his hand in the ashtray. In a moment of frustration and agony he exclaims, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” There's no way to sugarcoat it. The damage is extensive, worse than we may have feared or could have even imagined. But fortunately, the Rescuer is also far greater than we could have hoped or dreamed.

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