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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

nothing, something, everything

I heard someone say today: I am nothing, God is everything.

I don't disagree with this, but I do wonder if there is another way of putting it.

I suppose that when I think in such terms, I tends to say something more like:

"I am something, but the something I am -- to the extent that it is good and creditable -- is only because of God." It is God the Holy Spirit working in me so that I might do that which is pleasing in his sight.

Sometimes I hear people say what I wrote in the last sentence, and I think: I know you pretty well. I don't think that if it weren't for the constant, active intervention of the Holy Spirit you'd somehow be an axe murderer or serial adulterer or corporate polluter or something like that. So that seems a dissonant sentence. But I think I've realised that it's true -- it's just that the persons that we have become, who we can think of not being rapists and war criminals, have become who they are through the Holy Spirit. We don't know them apart from who they are in God, and so any speculation about hypotheticals (who we'd be apart from God) might be entertaining pub conversation but is otherwise useless.

In this sense, that I am something (something good and creditable) is true and true of me. But it is not true of me essentially, in some abstraction from the work of God. It is truly mine, but only as it is from God. As in fact, everything that I have as 'me' (i.e. considered as the actual person I am, apart from hypotheticals) is in fact from God. In that way, it also makes sense to say that I am nothing, except as I have from God. Yet, there is an 'I' which can give repent and give praise, an I which is never apart from God, and so it seems to make more sense to say that in God, I am something.

This ''being something" is a gift from God; and a gift calls forth gratitude, humility, and responsibility. This gift calls me out from a false "I" to a true "I" which finds its entire identity in God and works out that identity in loving God and neighbor. Ironically, as it is worked out, the focus becomes far less on the "I" (in a Cartesian or in a modern narcissistic sense) and far more on the O/other.

This should in no way be construed as in any way saying something like "I'm OK, you're OK", which is not merely insipid but dangerous self-delusion. I mean instead to acknowledge the deep reality of sin, but embrace the ongoing work of God. In this way, perhaps, I may take God more seriously than I take either myself or sin. (But God forgive me if it is mere vanity!)

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5 Comments:

Blogger Peter Young said...

Actually Jay, even with the constant, active intervention of the Holy Spirit I've often thought of becoming an axe murderer.

But the way I hear most people say this is that "everything good in me comes from God."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 1:42:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Pete:
Yeah, that's right. And I would say the same thing, while giving due emphasis to both: the good is from God, without whom there would be no good in me(indeed, strictly speaking, apart from whom there would be nothing at all to begin with!), and yet the good that you see is indeed in me, although it is not my work or responsibility.

How can we work 'axe murderer' into a hymn? Or would it have to be a praise chorus?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 2:30:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Young said...

The best that I can do is the following to the old 100th.

It’s darkness that my soul attracts
Those times that I reach for my axe
But for the Holy Spirit’s call
I’d probably kill you all.

I think it says everything there.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 3:29:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Peter:
LOL! I am (nearly) speechless. Leave to a Lutheran, I guess.

The Old 100th will never know what hit it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006 4:19:00 PM  
Blogger PdB said...

Fully appreciated, Jason and Peter!

Thursday, January 04, 2007 8:42:00 PM  

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