A Death Observed

“What is Truth?” I ask, as if taking a long drag from a cigarette with the Messiah standing in front of me.

His silence is deafening.

I curse him, spit on him. I stare at Life Himself, and yet dig a grave.

I look down, slightly grinding my teeth as I try to hold in the welling up of emotions. A tear rolls down my cheek.

I glance at him, and a tear rolls down his, too.

He offers no words. Only Himself.

 

 

My faith is often schizophrenic, or at the very least, bipolar. There are days when I feel like heaven has met earth and I am living fully alive. Those days give me a brief glimpse of eternity — I feel free in the love of the Father, running to the shore of His Grace with the sand kissing my feet with each lively step. I’ve felt loved and cherished by the Father along the rocky coast of Jamaica, the skyscrapers in New York, and the county roads of Georgia.  And then there are the living dead days, where I feel like a depressed kid popping Prozac between Netflix episodes. You know, the usual.

Some days I just feel really lonely, even if I’m in a crowded room. Sometimes I feel like God has left the building, maybe to go take care of those kids in Africa or to answer the prayers of some guy in Toronto. Sometimes I feel really pissed off — like, really pissed off. Being a Psych major and studying theology can do that to a person.

And yeah, I know “your feelings aren’t facts” and “God is greater than the ups and downs” and all the other cliches and Christian tattoos. I get it. And I know the verses. I know the theology. I’ve read the books. And yet I walk away from them emptier than I came. There is always one more question. One more book. One more theory. But books and theories don’t provide peace. They don’t provide love, and they don’t provide Life. Come to think of it, nothing two-dimensional can. And that’s what we’ve made of Jesus. A two-dimensional character to be studied. A piece of paper. A library of books.

We’ve taken the Creator of the Universe — the Creator of sex and wine and mountains — and boiled him down to a systematic being that can be summed up with a few brief adjectives on a piece of paper. Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. We’ve taken the beautiful Gospel of brokenness and turned it into the Gospel of sin management and doctrines. Now, don’t get me wrong. We need to deal with sin and doctrine is important. But I am less concerned about which theory of the atonement you believe as I am about how Jesus has changed your life. If you can walk in to a room and spit out theological facts and impress us all with your self-righteousness, great. But odds are, if you are that person, you’ll probably find yourself sooner or later banging your head against a wall with a bottle of Jack in your hand as you realize you’ve mistaken theology for Jesus. God knows I have.

Not a day goes by when I don’t fight an internal battle of depression, doubt, and fear. If I’m being brutally honest, some days I wish I could live like most 20-something-year-olds and have my only worry be who I’m going to sleep with tonight and which beer I’ll choose to drown my sorrows. Will I go with Michelob or Smirnoff? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die, right? But something within me holds me back from trying to find comfort in sex and peace in a bottle. And I’ve talked to enough people who have walked that road to know it ain’t the narrow road Jesus talks about.

My mistresses are theology and doubt. When I need peace, I go grab a book about why God allows bad things to happen. When I doubt God, I go grab a book on skepticism. Sure, I’ve got friends. Lewis, Buechner, Yancey, and Chesterton to name a few. With each book I add to my library, I dig myself a deeper grave: wallowing in my own confusion, doubt, and uncertainty. Let me clarify that the books are not the issue. The issue is that I neglect the wounds of my soul and pretend to be fine. It’s as if the storm is raging, and I’m trying to stop the boat from sinking by adding more water. Meanwhile, Jesus naps on the deck, waiting for me to wake him up. Because Jesus isn’t afraid of storms. And He likes naps.

The funny thing is, I’ve come to like the grave. It’s comfortable. Predictable. Sure, it’s a little unsettling to live in fear, but at least I don’t have to strip and be vulnerable, right? At least I don’t have to open the deep waters of my heart, or allow the painful surgery of Life to make me whole. Hiding behind a fig leaf and eating from the Tree of Knowledge is my forte. To love is to be vulnerable, and why be vulnerable? Why show my heart, only to have it broken and mauled and torn apart? No, it is much better to store my heart in a casket, where it may become impenetrable — no, irredeemable. Let it become motionless. Stagnant. Dead.

If you were looking for an optimistic blog, this isn’t it. But an honest one? Absolutely. This is an invitation to walk with me through my own Darkness.

Of course, I don’t always think like this. Perhaps it is the library that is killing me, or maybe my own bedroom. The constant lies and fears fed to me by the Enemy entice me to stay hidden among the shadows, grasping for Life through the idolatry of theology. And I am a firm believer that theology is one of the greatest weapons used by the Enemy to keep people from truly living. Think I’m wrong? Take a look for yourself at the depression and affair statistics among pastors and those in ministry.

I can’t take that risk of pursuing the girl because I need to first figure out my stance on Old Testament violence. I can’t go surfing and watch the sunset because God knows I have another book to read on the theology of suffering. And simply spending time outside with the Creator of the Universe? C’mon. I’m too busy trying to understand the whole predestination vs. free will ordeal.

The irony of all my searching is that I keep missing Jesus, all the while studying Jesus. It’s like trying to get to know someone by stalking their Instagram, when they have literally asked you multiple times to grab coffee or get lunch or go to a park together. I’m digging my grave and wondering why I can’t see. It’s hard to lead other people to the Light when you’ve blinded yourself.

There’s a passage in Hosea where God says He will lure Israel into the wilderness, and there He will speak tenderly to her. I need that. But selfishly, I hope He lures me to the ocean.

There is a certain level of compassion and ferocity that is only found within the ocean. With each new wave comes a rhythmic cry for redemption, a longing for restoration. Its broken beauty reminds me of myself, and of a distant home. Eden.

I used to fear the ocean, and for years I never knew why. Much like my view of God, I guess its mystery and beauty both compelled and frightened me. So much risk within those waters. But by stepping into those waters, I step into grace. And I yearn for grace. I am convinced it is the only hope we have for this dying world.

Habakkuk writes that, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). Reading this, I seem to be chasing the wrong kind of knowledge. How does the water cover the sea? The water is the sea and the sea cannot exist without the water. I’m convinced that this knowledge is one of intimacy, as a man knows a woman. This ain’t book knowledge. This is God knowing man as a man knows a friend. As a husband knows his wife. This is intimacy. This is love. This is Jesus. Not two-dimensional Jesus, but the Jesus I can surf with, watch the sunset he made with, pursue the girl with, laugh with, cry with, run with, and die with. This is the Jesus I can live with, because He is Life.

This is the Jesus who sees the grave I am digging and the death I am living and says, NO. Death will not have the final say. The grave will not win. Slavery to shame, doubt, confusion, and sin will not last. This is the Jesus who condemned sin and death, nailing my charges against Him to the cross. He disarmed the spiritual authorities, shaming them publicly, as Paul says in Colossians, and defeating them through His resurrection. This is the Jesus who weeps with me and for me, earnestly crying out for me to return to love and life each time I trade Him for something else. This is the Jesus who stands there, as I curse and spit upon Him, and offers His presence. Not answers — but peace. Yahweh Shalom.

I’m convinced that C.S. Lewis was right in saying that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. To love is to be vulnerable, and Jesus is love. Radical, offensive, undomesticated love. I put my heart in a casket, but the lid was never fully shut. Maybe, just maybe, my heart really is redeemable. May the Love and Life of Jesus be evident in my life. I don’t know much, and frankly I’m tired of trying to figure it all out. I’m just a kid learning to be friends with the Creator of everything I love, and for some reason He cares enough to pursue me in my brokenness. The One who spun the stars into place and formed me from the dust has ransomed and redeemed me, and now seeks to fully heal me, restore me, and give me Life. That is enough. Anything else is religion.

 

 

 

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