We’re just a week out from the American release of Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. If you haven’t had a chance to look at our other previews, take a gander. What you will find is an arresting re-appraisal of the tradition, heart, and central figure of the Christian framework–a framework that still puts faith where it’s put best, as it “lives in life.” That’s all fine and dandy. Many writers and thinkers sympathetic to the Christian faith have made claim on this, that theology ought to be “on the ground,” that scripture ought to “touch down in the everyday.” These theology-and-life buzzwords are all the rage, and I suppose will be for some time, but rarely do they reach the mark, mostly because so often “the everyday” described is somewhat relegated to an “everyday” I cannot relate to. And rarely does this yearning for lived Christianity enter into the emotional sphere, but almost always the ethical, or the socio-economic. Spufford points the pen at the human heart, the one thing that hasn’t changed from its original trajectory (tFtU).

Here he takes us to the ministry of Jesus the man–how being a man was God’s “real-life” application of love into the world, and also it’s terminal limitation…as long as Jesus (Yeshua) was alive.

tumblr_m3ocqw4Hjk1qffbeho1_1280How, though? How can an unlimited love be applied in a world of limits? To begin with, as he goes about the province, Yeshua seems to be trying to do it physically. What do you want me to do for you, he asks the people he speaks to, and very often the answer is, heal me; make me better from the diseases that this time and place in human history cannot cure. Leprosy, epilepsy, paralysis, schizophrenia. All the accidents of a biology which palpably is not safe, is not designed, is not secured from harm by the love that backs the universe. And Yeshua does what he is asked to. He licks his fingers and makes a paste of mud and spit, he lays his hands on twitching stick-limbs and the nubs where hands used to be and sides of heads which are canisters of unbearable noise or skittering electricity; and where he does so, without any fuss or visible fireworks, the patient shining that precedes all particular things is somehow enabled, just this once, just at this particular moment, on a tiny scale, very locally, to seep through from the brightness beyond into the here and now, into what is, and to remake it as love would have it be. Impossibilities occur. Blind eyes suddenly see. Severed nerve cells reconnect. Legs straighten, infections recede, pain fades, horrified minds quieten. Up you get, says Yeshua. Go, get up, live, be in motion, be about your business, be the mended version of yourself. Perhaps this momentary suspension of the laws of the universe can happen because the maker of all things in now no longer outside them, impartially sustaining them, holding everything but touching nothing in particular. Now, instead, the maker is within as well, and he has hands that can reach, he has a local address in space and time from which to act. But now, by the same token, he cannot be everywhere at once. He has only two hands, one voice. He can only touch the people who are within the reach of his hands, as he travels at foot speed or fishing-boat speed around the province. And he himself, existing in the domain of limits, has limits too. Healing people exhausts him; it makes him sway on his feet. Day after day ends with him helplessly asking his friends to get him away, and they carry him off in a boat, or up into the hills, just so he can sleep, leaving behind the vast total of the world’s suffering almost unaltered, only the tiniest inroads made into it, only an infinitesimal fraction of it eased. One man doing miracles in West Asia doesn’t even move the leprosy statistics. The cruelty of the cruel world reproduces itself far faster than his slow hands can move. He brings sight to blind eyes, and all the causes of blindness rage on. He interrupts one stoning, and that very week twenty other stonings proceed without a hitch.

6a00d83451da9669e2017c31ed1dd1970b-400wiHe can’t mend the world’s sorrows this way–weep though he does, berate himself though he does, say yes though he does to every request. The healing of damaged bodies can only be a sign of what he’s truly come to do. His business is with the human heart in the metaphorical sense, not with the clenching muscle in our chests. He’s here to mend the HPtFtU, not to cure diseases…That’s what he means by the camel skipping through the needle’s eye, by the lost sheep being found, by the ruined boy coming home. His promise is that grief we ourselves cause can be mended. How, though? Isn’t that even more impossible? Two thousand years later, we can do something about a lot of the diseases that were incurable when Yeshua came, and our knowledge increases year by year, reducing pain far more effectively than isolated miracles could. But how, in a world of consequences, can we possibly be rid of the consequences of our own cruelties and failures–especially when Yeshua is insisting we take ourselves so ferociously seriously? The consequences of the HPtFtU ramify out in time from moments we cannot retrieve. Our past is past, definitively out of reach. The child you neglected grew up into the adult who will always be shaped, in part, by the neglect. The effort you failed to put into your first marriage left your ex-partner with scar tissue that is now part of him. The nervous teenager you talked into trying skunk in Amsterdam in 1997, the one who had the psychotic reaction to it, is still living at home with her parents, still frightened, still unquiet in mind. None of it can be unpicked, revised, done over again. So how can the weight of it, which Yeshua insists we should feel as the first step towards hope, possibly be lifted off us?

The existing religion of the God of everything, in Yeshua’s time, says that the only way to be free of the past is by sacrifice…But Yeshua says that the HPtFtU is universal and pervasive, far in excess of the lawbook’s listing; and he doesn’t seem to be talking about sacrifice. At least, not a sacrifice that we can make. he doesn’t seem to think that any number of dead doves can remake our relationship with our own history. Instead–to the horror of the pious people he talks to–he thinks that he can.