A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...
Perhaps not quite as salacious as Tillich fans or foes might infer from the title, but here, one of our ‘top three’ favorite heretics (Bultmann and Kuyper – just kidding), contributes this gem on justification from his Systematic Theology:
Justification in the objective sense is the eternal act of God by which he accepts as not estranged those who are indeed estranged from him by guilt and the act by which he takes them into unity with him which is manifest in the New Being of Christ. Justification literally means “making just,” namely, making man that which he essentially is and from which he is estranged. If used in this sense, the word would be identical with Sanctification. But the Pauline doctrine of Justification by grace through faith has given the word a meaning which makes it the opposite pole of Sanctification. It is an act of God which is in no way dependent on man, an act in which he accepts him who is unacceptable. In the paradoxical formula, simul peccator, simul justus, which is the core of the Lutheran revolution, the in-spite-of character is decisive for the whole Christian message as the salvation from despair about one’s guilt. It is actually the only way to overcome the anxiety of guilt; it enables man to look away from himself and his state of estrangement and self-destruction to the justifying act of God. He who looks at himself and tries to measure his relation to God by his achievements increases his estrangement and the anxiety of guilt and despair.
“The only person lacking desperation is the one who does not know herself very well. Usually a few examples of typical, universal human difficulty are enough to ‘raise the bottom’ to the point where the idea of powerlessness will connect with any layperson. Let’s explore some of these…
Like Swiss cheese, people are full of holes. The Twelve Step approach is quick to draw attention to those holes, rather than try to dodge, cover, or counterbalance them. So which weaknesses tend to be present universally? The Big Book provides its own list:
“We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn’t apply to our human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…” (52)
I have yet to meet the person who cannot identify with a least one of the items on that list. Who, for example, is a stranger to fear? Jesus offered a similar list in his famous Sermon on the Mount, but his list also included anger, lust, and anxiety. These are the “classics”, and they account for much of the content of the day-to-day experience of being human.
Using similar logic, AA would liken sin to sickness. R. C. Sproul voiced this sentiment when he wrote, “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” We would happily extrapolate along those same lines: “we are not alcoholics because we drink uncontrollably; we drink uncontrollably because we are alcoholics.” Have you ever thought of misdoing as a kind of illness? Like an allergy or a virus, self-centeredness cannot easily be mastered or controlled. The good news is that our negative attributes can become a bedrock upon which effective spirituality can be built. Without them, there is no hope for spiritual rejuvenation; in the place of health, there is apparently no need for recovery.
The realization of our own weakness is so counterintuitive to human nature that the revelation can be rightly ascribed to the divine. A Christian would ascribe this work to the Holy Spirit. The old-fashioned word for it is repentance.
And so it is with the entire progression of AA’s Twelve Steps. As the ego is deflated and self-confidence is discouraged at every turn, something called “faith”, or “God-confidence” miraculously begins to take its place – although it doesn’t appear that way to the subject at first. In Step 12, AA refers to the fruit of this faith as “a spiritual awakening.”
We close this section on Step 1 with an incisive quote from the sixteenth-century English theologian Richard Hooker:
My eager protestations, made in the glory of my ghostly strength, I am ashamed of; but those crystal tears, wherewith my sin and weakness was bewailed, have procured my endless joy; my strength hath been my ruin, and my fall my stay.
Mockingbird-favorite Steve Brown’s classic, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough (recently revised in a new edition), calls us to enter the impasse of the overcontrolled Christian, half-looking at ourselves or at others with one eye, while the other one’s uneasily flitting back and forth to the scoreboard, seeing how things are measuring up. It admits that despite our doctrinal sophistication, our born-again spiritual credentials, our good work, and/or our pursuit of holiness, something still seems to missing. Brown says we miss laughter, the normal reaction to one’s own silliness or unexpected good fortune, because we take ourselves very seriously – especially in faith – and try to expect, predict, and control for everything. How could there be laughter in those circumstances? How can there be?
One story of his follows a woman who moved from having everything under control to being forced to give it up, ht JH:
Early in my ministry I counseled a woman who, some twenty years before, had been unfaithful to her husband. For years that sin had haunted her. I was the first person she had ever told about it. After we talked and prayed for a long time, I recommended she tell her husband. (That, by the way, isn’t always the advice I give. In this case, I knew the woman’s husband and knew that her revelation, after the initial shock, would probably strengthen their marriage.) It wasn’t easy for her, but she promised she would tell him. “Pastor,” she said, “I trust you enough to do what you ask, but if my marriage falls apart as a result, I want you to know I’m going to blame you.” She didn’t smile when she said that, either.
That’s when I commenced to pray with a high degree of seriousness. (I pray best when I’m scared.) “Father,” I prayed, “if I gave her dumb advice, forgive me and clean up my mess.”
I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. “What happened?” I asked. “When I told him,” she exclaimed, “replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!” And then she started to laugh. “He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!” Perhaps you are like this woman who had been forgiven and didn’t know it.
“Treat Her Better”, and “Go Easy”: the voice of pleading fights down that of advice in Demarco’s latest release.
Mac Demarco’s Salad Days has been, strangely enough, a joy to listen to. If I were a music critic, I’d try and fail to describe the playful self-awareness, the almost-total coincidence between irony and sincerity, etc. I can’t describe musical form too precisely, but suffice it to say, it’s tailored extremely well to the album’s content. And the content is stunning – or would be, if it didn’t have so many layers of irony and alienation covering it over.
In this case, that’s…
The New South aesthetic is farcical, but not irredeemably so.
Over pimento cheese fritters with bacon jam at a restaurant in South Georgia, I marveled at waiters in chambray shirts under plaid vests, distressed brick walls, and cocktail names like ‘rockin porch’. How, I wondered, had things down there come to such a pass? My companion, a Virginian who’d gone to a New England college, lightly objected to the rusty scythes and plows adorning the walls – wasn’t this a bit much?
The farm tools were almost a New South parody, the chiks comin’ home to roost. To the Georgian, it seems,…
FOMO’s not the whole story – nor is it new.
The Boston Magazine this week published a history of “Fear of Missing Out“, tracing its beginnings, like a careful epidemiologist, back to 2004, at Harvard Business School. Of greater interest were its comments on FOBO, Fear of a Better Option (more precisely, Fear that a Better Option Exists, but FOBO’s easier than FBOE, so there it is):
But this mentality had its costs: McGinnis and his group found they couldn’t commit to anything. Working with the rudimentary tools available to them (cell phones and address books), they developed complex algorithms to plan…
A woman once wrote Flannery O’Connor, whose stories spanned such plots as misfit murderers, rapacious Bible salesmen, and racist old men, and the woman suggested Flannery’s stories weren’t uplifting. Complaining about the criticism in a letter to a friend, O’Connor said she would’ve found them uplifting, “if her heart were in the right place.”
Flannery’s stories usually involved the all-out assault on the human illusion of mastery and independence, undertaken desperately and absurdly. An invalid for years, you can almost hear O’Connor’s relish as she describes various medical aids:
The brace shop was a small concrete warehouse lined and stacked with the equipment…
A psychiatrist wants to buoy up one of Percy’s characters; she wants something else.
And now for some thoughts on Damon Lindelof (LOST) and Peter Berg’s (Friday Night Lights) new show on HBO, The Leftovers. Spoiler Warning!
Another Week Ends: Overrated Successes, Disappointing Babies, Nostalgia for Human Error, Impossible Repayment and Technocrat Baseball
1. William Deresiewicz’s clickbaity “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” draws in high-achievers and their parents to, well, pull the rug out from under them. Apologies for the lengthy quotes, but it’s very good, ht MB:
These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures…
Allen Tate, an admired Southern poet (friend of Robert Penn Warren and teacher of Robert Lowell), published an essay in 1930 diagnosing the complexities of Southern and, by extension, American religion. It appears in a work by defenders of the agrarian way of life, titled I’ll Take My Stand, a book with some high points of wisdom which are neglected, now, as a result of its significant/egregious low points of racism and Southern revanchism. Tate finds American religion to be pragmatic in a bad way, focused on an abstract ability to work rather than a view of the whole human. You can…
Here is a drastic parting of the ways with a theology of glory. The Christ of the Cross takes away the possibility of doing something. The theologian of glory might be able to follow to the point of accepting the truth that Christ has fulfilled all things, but then that will have to be used as a motivational tool to make sure the law gets its due. The point is precisely that the power to do good comes only out of this wild claim that everything has already been done. The language has to break out into preaching. Never mind that when we look to ourselves we find no sign of good works. Never mind our fears and our anxieties. We are looking in the wrong place. Look to Christ! He has done it all. Nothing will be gained by trying to shore up the Old Adam. Christ leaves nothing for the Old Adam and Eve to do. The old can only be killed by the law, not given artificial respiration by recourse to it… To the theologian of the cross the language of grace and faith must be pushed absolutely to this length – until it kills the old and raises the new.
-Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross