Thursday, October 25, 2012

Energy and Order

      In Genesis 1 God creates order out of chaos.  The original conditions were inhospitable to life—there was complete darkness, utter emptiness, no land, nothing but a raging wind over a restless sea.  Then God proceeds to bring order to the chaos—he creates light, he pushes  the sea back to allow the land to show, and he fills the emptiness with trees, fish, beasts and humans.  Order out of chaos.
But he doesn’t rid the earth of chaos, he simply restrains it.  But it is still there.  At any given time half the earth is in darkness.  Hurricanes form and the wind and sea rages, imposing itself over the dry land.  Tornadoes drop out of the sky, tear a path through the land, and recede back into the sky.  Rain falls for days, sending rivers over their banks; or it doesn’t fall at all, turning the landscape from lush green to dry brown.
But these are normal events.  Though they seem random and episodic, they are all quite common—and necessary.  Hurricanes and tornados regulate the earth’s surface temperatures, dissipating excess heat into the atmosphere.  Floods enrich the soil in the floodplains, bringing life everything living nearby.   In fact, engineering to contain flooding on the Mississippi  has had the unintended effect of creating more damage when there are floods, due to higher water levels and faster flows.  They also  are reducing the wetlands at the mouth of the river, leading to encroachment by the Gulf of Mexico northward. 
In other words, chaos is as necessary to life as order.  It helps to understand that what we call chaos is simply uncontrolled energy, and that’s not always such a bad thing.  Energy is a good thing.  Life is energy.   The soul is about energy.  There is only one body that does not have energy, and that is a dead one, and a dead body has no soul.  It has no energy.  Think about music.  Music that has no soul lacks energy, lacks the ability to move us.  The music that is so often heard in airports, supermarkets, and elevators is soulless.  It does nothing to you.  It doesn’t stir you.  It is just filler.  But certain music does stir you.  It is full of energy—what the Greeks called eros. 
The soul gives energy, but it also holds us together.  It makes us alive, but it also makes us one.  Once again, look at a dead body.  At the moment of death, all the chemicals that work together to form a single organism begin to go their own way.  As they fall away from each other, the body starts to fall apart.  This is the essence of decomposition.  The chemicals aren’t destroyed, they just don’t hold together anymore.
A healthy soul does two things for us.  First, it puts fire in our veins.  It keeps us energized, vibrant, zestful, and full of hope that life is worth living.  When this breaks down, something is wrong with our souls.  Cynicism, despair, bitterness and depression paralyze our energy.  Second, a healthy soul keeps us fixed together.  It gives us a sense of who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and what sense there is in all of this.  It holds us together as one.  So a healthy soul is a combination of energy and order, and each must be given its due.  Too much order and you die of suffocation; too much energy and you die of dissipation. 
That raging wind that blew over the restless sea in Genesis 1?  In Hebrew that word is ruach, and that same word is used for the Holy Spirit.  In fact many translations say that the Spirit of God was upon the face of the deep.  Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  You cannot control the Spirit, or a person infused with the Spirit.  And that same Spirit makes us one.   “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”  (Eph. 4:4-6)
The Holy Spirit is both Energy and Order.  Our souls need both.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Love and Fear

“Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God.”                                                            —Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus

Fear is a good motivator.  It can keep you from doing things you shouldn’t, as when your mother warned you as a small child not to touch the hot stove, and it can spur you to do the things you should, as when I studied hard for a test because I didn’t want to face my parents and explain to them why I received a bad grade.  I am not sure that it isn’t the first and most basic human motivator; I’ve not studied these things, but my guess is that when the first humans were struggling to survive in a hostile environment that fear kept the species going.  Fear of starvation, fear of wild animals, fear of heights, fear of the cold, fear of being abandoned by the tribe or clan and left to fend for yourself—these all seem pretty basic fears.  The fight or flight instinct are both spurred by fright.  I imagine you fight with more desperation when afraid, even more so than when angry, and I'm pretty sure you run faster when afraid of whatever is chasing you.  Fear is the first and most basic motivator.
That’s why political campaigns always seem to go negative.  You can motivate people to vote for you by promising them the world, but when you really need to motivate them, you have to scare them.  Tell them the other guy will take away your freedom, your money, your rights, your dignity.  Tell them the other guy can’t be trusted, tell them he’s dishonest, tell them he crooked, tell them he’s a cheat.  Scare them enough, and they will vote for you—or at least not vote for the other guy, which is the same thing.
Unfortunately, religion uses fear as well.  What’s even more unfortunate is that it’s hard to tell if the politicians learned it from the religious or if the religious learned it from politics.  I'm not even sure which would be worse, but it doesn’t really matter.  While politicians have been trying to, metaphorically speaking, scare the hell out of people for millennia, religion has been doing the same thing for at least as long, not metaphorically but literally.  If you don’t believe the right things and say the right words you will burn in hell for the rest of eternity.  If you don’t  do this for God he will withhold his blessing on your life.   You will lose your health, your kids will rebel, you won’t be happy, etc.
And it works.  People walk down the aisle, pray the prayer, get baptized all to make sure they don’t get sent to hell.  People tithe, attend worship, read the Bible, teach Sunday School so they can, if not stay healthy, at least avoid the bad diseases and accidents, and have a relatively tragedy-free life.
And some do but even those who do live a relatively joyless life.  The absence of tragedy, and even the freedom from hell, doesn’t mean the presence of joy.
Fear does work in motivating people to do good things for God.  The problem is that however good it is in getting proper behavior, it isn’t from God.  Nouwen is exactly right:  every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God.  Beware of those who claim to speak for God and for what is right for God, the church, your family, the country, etc. but whose primary aim is to provoke fear and despair in your soul.  They are not from God, neither do they speak for God.
The evangelist John said that we should love others “because God loved us first” (1 John 4:19).  God is love, and God is only love.  His love is perfect because it is pure and complete, and because it is pure and complete it is fearless.  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
The voices of fear are not from God; listen only to the Voice of Love, for it is God’s own Voice.