I’ve been talking with some friends lately about Christian music. Part of that was sparked by what Bono said about God preferring Rock & Roll to Gospel (it was basically that God prefers truth to happyclappy).
I really don't like the "Christian" label. Partly, I have the same problem as Rob Bell, like I'm supposed to accept bad art because it's got my team's mascot on it? But for me it goes even deeper. Most songwriters going for that Christian label feel like their audience demands happiness, utually a "victory chant" or maybe a minor song that ends with a major chord in the last measure. That doesn't feel true to me, to my life experience.
What feels very true to me is a sort of "cursed assurance". I have all these really great promises in the Bible but I don't see them working out, and I have no guarantee on the timing, and I really have no guarantee that they apply to me personally. I've seen the dead end of Name It And Claim It Boulevard, and yet I still have this trust for the heart of God. I've given up on a story that is supposed to make me happy. I wake up every day and things change. Good stuff happens, bad stuff happens, but all with an ambivalence to me and my happiness. Each day is like an invitation to go deeper no matter if it looks better or worse. It's like God is saying, "If you're having trouble looking too far ahead for the happily ever after, just close your eyes." I know that God has given me his very great and precious promises. The only thing is that it seems like God's best promises have to do with making me one with him, and taking me where he is. And when I think about how that played out for Jesus, it seems there was very little God was doing FOR him and a lot God was doing TO him and THROUGH him. He had that "cursed assurance" thing. He was made a curse for others so that they could enjoy the blessing of God. And John even had the gall to say that the same fate is ours, "Christ laid down his life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." I want to change the words to this old hymn:
CURSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE
OH, WHAT A FORETASTE OF GLORY DIVINE!
So that’s what hope looks like to me these days. I spend a lot of time with my eyes closed watching clouds roll in and others break. Most of the things I hoped for I don’t anymore because they’re gone and I’m changed by their going. I hope for different things now. But I’m more careful, or less, depending on how you want to look at it. The hope I now have is more like Frodo’s or Jesus’. In his heart Frodo began to understand his quest would claim his life. Same with Jesus. My life will be consumed one way or another, and I hope that something good might come to me, either before or after. It’s a less personal hope, but a more certain one I think.
Aragorn’s line keeps rolling around in my head, the one from the movie when Elrond brought Andúril to him and said, “I give hope to Men.” He responds, “I keep none for myself.”
But there is good reason to hope. Because really, I am not waiting for my world to all come together. I am waiting to let my world come undone.
In Rob Bell’s Everything is Spiritual tour, he talked about the poem of creation, the one found in Genesis 1. He spent a good deal of time talking about the about the beauty and truth of its lyrics, meter, rhythm, and symmetry, and that was interesting. He also pointed out something that has always fascinated me—that with God evening precedes morning. Night gives birth to day. And I have always taken that as hopeful, because in this dark night of the soul I am in the beginning, not the end of God’s cycle.
But there is one more thing in this poem, something I had never seen before. It was the way of God separating and then filling, separating and then filling, separating and then filling. The first three days are God separating. The second three days are God filling. A matched set. In the same order. The first day God separates light from darkness with space, and the fourth day he fills them with stars. The second day God separates the waters with sky, and the fifth day he fills them with fish and birds. The third day God separates the seas with land, and the sixth day he fills the land with all sorts of animals, saving the best for last: Man...and then Woman.
But how is this hopeful? I used to be presented with faith as a sort of victory march where I am supposed to get closer and closer to God, believe more and more, obey more and more, understand more and more, win more and more, have more and more, and essentially by moving “from glory to glory” be promoted, ultimately to the very image of God. Faith was “Onward Christian soldier marching as to war / With the cross of Jesus going on before”, and God was waiting atop his holy hill for me to finally get it right, with his help of course. But what if the writer of Genesis truly had a revelation of God, truly captured in those verses the essence and nature of Creation? If so, then the rhythm that is found in those first six days (and the seventh) explains a lot. If the way of God is to separate and then fill, then this separation I feel is a portend of a refill.
I get this image of God exhaling, and then inhaling, exhaling, and then inhaling. I get this image of God quaking the earth, splitting it asunder, and then a river of life rushing through to fill it. I get this image of people being separated by sin, evil, misunderstandings, and then reconciliation rushing through to fill it. I get this image of a God being separated from his Creation, and then a Messiah rushing in to fill and restore all. And somehow it’s all happening like it’s supposed to because it’s all part of the life of the Creator who separates, and then fills.
And so I have this dark hope that maybe would be called despair because I am simply doing nothing about it. And I have this upside down view of God that maybe would be called falling away. In truth, I am still hoping to fall, waiting for the world to fall, waiting for everything to come undone, because only then will the season change, the color return, and this wide canyon of hope be filled.
And this is why that seventh day is so intriguing to me. The Seventh, the Sabbath, the Rest. The activity of hope is the most torturous of all activity. Do nothing. Rest. Let. Allow. Accept. Die. In the book of Hebrews it says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-Rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” And what an effort it is. Everything is screaming, Touch it! Do something! Work it! Fix it! Save it! Fill it! And hope comes along and whispers darkly, Wait. Rest. Sleep. Trust. Believe. Watch.
That’s my hope. And I can’t say that I found it through brilliant application or by mustard-seed faith. I can’t say I found it at all. It found me. I didn’t even want it. It threw itself on me as the crack began to grow and my world started coming undone.
This hope whispers to me that three days hence space will be filled with stars, that three days hence sky will be teeming with fowl, that three days hence earth will be covered with feet, that three days hence the Grave will be filled with the Life, and that somehow three days hence I will see all that was separated, filled.
There is always hope.