19 July 2011

Beyond the House of Pain

Isn't it funny, how often we humans think of the visible world not just as our dominion, but as our preserve, our monopoly, our source of raw materials and field of free-ranging exploitation? And yet - no less do we feel exploited and victimized by it(!): as if we ourselves were somehow cut from a finer cloth, and had been exiled to this gross material realm as to some incomprehensibly strange place, alien and repugnant to our pure spirits, and hostile to our spiritual growth and progress. But what is it precisely we feel exiled from? Is the "enemy" in this case merely a sum total of all the other, subhuman creatures, who've been all along secretly ganging up on us, and now threaten to entangle us pure humans in a materiality that promises only the further suffocation and devouring of our souls? Is this thing, this "world" we find so alienating and corrupting, merely outside of us - and so by implication a thing more comfortably inherent in, or "natural to," subhuman creatures? Or is it something in whose creation - in whose producing and expediting - we humans have been at least partially instrumental? And even something that, in its turn, has made this once very differently configured earth an exile and a prison not just for "old Adam," as it were, but for each and every other creature of the Garden?

I'll tell you what I think. Inside every living creature, I believe, there is that which belongs to this World and is more or less at home in it, and revels in that fact (or thinks it does, or pretends and parades in front of others that it does). Inside every living creature - to whatever degree it is able to will and do anything - there is that which delimits and determines and defines, and resolves and plans and calculates, and drives and executes and intimidates, and ultimately terrorizes and, yes, sometimes even kills. And there is that in it which stops dead in its tracks, and is quiet, and remembers, and ruminates. And yearns. And these two aspects of the same creature are very, very different things. And while no doubt some measure of the first aspect is necessary to that creature's survival in this present order of existence, it is the liberation, if you will, of the second aspect that is most necessary to its rebirth in the world to come. Or - perhaps - even to its carving-out of some (large or small) oasis of peace in this one?

Now I can imagine how improbable and bizarre all this must sound to modern rationalistic ears. What I can't imagine is why it should in the least strange or bizarre to Christian ones. Especially if our Christ is indeed a prince of peace, and if the Grace He sheds abroad truly builds on the Nature He has made. If that is so, then surely somewhere in the nature of the fiercest predator, or of the busiest beaver, there must be something that desires rest and peace, no less than it delights in work and war. Otherwise, it seems to me, we make our Messiah into little more than a celestial Dr Moreau, and His Kingdom scarcely better than a heaven-descended House of Pain, in which not only our creaturely animality, but all our species' native dispositions towards aggression and strife must be tortured out of us.

But if that is so, how do we explain the many passages throughout Scripture - both Hebrew and Greek - that testify of seemingly the whole subhuman creation eagerly awaiting its liberation at the hands of One who is to come? Are these lions and sharks and scorpions naive or what? Can't they see how their "basic natures" are going to be brutally suppressed? That

"they shall neither hurt nor destroy in ALL my holy mountain"?

Or is there - just maybe - something in the nature of lion, no less than of lamb, that hungrily awaits such deliverance as only a Prince of Peace can give?

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