Friday, April 07, 2006

The significance of tense

I've been rummaging through my memory and revisiting my days at King College, mostly because the advent of my website has put me back in touch with several former schoolmates. Those memories are rife with emotion of all sorts, and it's brought me back to a song I wrote in my sophomore year entitled "I Will Be Free."

Locked in the cages
Paying the wages
Of my sin
Sin that confounds me
Its all around me
And I begin

To pull at the chains that bind my hands and feet
To immovable walls of defeat
Does anyone have the key?

To see the garden
I need a pardon
Deep inside my soul is crying out
I will be free

Turning the pages
Written by sages
Of the past
They tell a story
Of a home up in glory
And so I ask,

Tell me, when will my soul gain its liberty
From the fetters that restrain me?
Will this soul ever be free?

Sin may have bound me
But Jesus found me
And broke its chains
Now Im begging grace
Please come replace
All that remains

You paid the wages
You unlocked the cages of my sin

Doubts abating
Chains are fading
Very soon my weary soul will say
Now I am free

I know, I know, it's a far cry from the person who a few weeks back posted a blog that started out "I don't give a crap about heaven." (Which, admittedly, may have been a, hmm... minor misjudgement on my part - but I still stand behind my reasons for saying it.)

It has been a revealing thing to think about this song and how much it meant to me in those days - and whether it still bears any significance. The entire ideology behind it - waiting for heaven when 'I will be free' because here I'm only 'locked in the cages' of sin - is a worldview that I just no longer believe works. But that is where I was. And if someone had come up to me and said "Forget about heaven - life is here, life is now - live it!", I probably would have kicked him in the shins and ran away crying like a baby.

Because the truth is that sometimes life really is a bitch. I've been reading some of my friends' blogs and my heart just goes out them in thier frustration and pain, because we all know what it's like to experience those things. And you know, sometimes it's just easier to offer a comforting platitude; to say, 'At least in heaven there is no pain,' or, 'Someday Jesus will wipe those tears away.' Sometimes that really is all that keeps a person going.

But there has to be more. I've been having a conversation with a dear friend lately about sin and suffering, and this is one thing that was said to me:

Sinning no more isn't possible on this earth. We'll never live a sinless day... or else we wouldn't need Him. But maybe the point is... keep coming back to Him and going out again with the intention to sin no more. It's a continuous cycle.

Maybe my friend is right. Maybe that is the point. Maybe in this life we are perpetually bound by the notion of our fallen state, a cursed humanity. Maybe freedom will only ultimately come in heaven, in an afterlife, and until then we are to be satisfied with a "continuous cycle" of good intentions, failure, forgiveness, renewal of good intentions, failure... and so it goes.

Or maybe that's not the point at all. I love and respect my friend, but how long can anyone continue in that cycle before something breaks? Before you go crazy from your own inability to measure up? Before you sigh and resign to a listless life of pretense and self-loathing? Before you give up?

What if giving up were really the best thing for you? Suppose with me for just a moment... What if the idea of sin, and our need to be saved from it, was misguided, unfounded? What if sin were not the ultimate enemy, but only a byproduct of something else gone wrong? What if it weren't the bad things we've done that we need to be saved from?

What if the real issue is not morality, but identity?

Perhaps the church has over-emphasized sin and our need to be free from it. Not to say that sin isn't real and something to be reckoned with, but if we all just stopped sinning, would it matter? Would it make a difference? Or would we still be lost, resigned to that listless life of cycles? Wouldn't we still need something more?

I believe that is why Jesus said, "Come unto me, all you who are weary - I will give you rest." If you're weary of living for something you can't accomplish, stop trying to accomplish it! Give up! It could be that what you're chasing after, you were never meant to have - even if you attain it, it might not even be the thing that will satisfy you! There is a more satisfying pursuit, and that is the pursuit of identity: where did I come from? That is the question we need answered - who am I? What am I made of? If I'm just a chip off the old block, what is the block like?

"Come unto me..." Not "continue in your cycle," but "come." Give up on your pursuit of morality and instead find out who you are. Come to ME for that answer.

So, God, if it's not about what I do, but about who I am - then who am I? Where did I come from?

And Jesus says, 'You came from me! You are made of me! You have the same stuff inside you, the spark of the divine, the image of God! Seek, ask, knock! Seek me with your whole heart, and you will find me!'

That is a pursuit worth making. And it's not a cycle - you only get deeper, because we're talking about God. He continues to invite you further and further into the mystery.

I love this verse, absolutely love it: "Seek first the kingdom of God [where you came from] and his righteousness [what you are meant to do] and ALL THESE THINGS will be added unto you" (emphasis and brackets, obviously, mine). I don't think when Jesus said here "the kingdom of God" that he was talking about heaven. And I don't think that when he says "righteousness" he is talking about our modern concept of Western morality.

I think the kingdom of God is right here, right now. I think righteousness is doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with your God. I didn't always think that - I used to sing of how I will be free from sin in heaven. I was partly right: I was destined for freedom - I just didn't know my captor. I didn't know myself. And I didn't know where I came from. But now I know these things, and I no longer have to sing in the future tense.

Yes, I believe a day is coming when I will have an even greater understanding of freedom; when the side effects of sin and death are truly abolished; when seeing God face to face will no longer be "the hope of glory." I understand why an orphan takes comfort in the fact that her parents are in heaven; I know why the African slaves sang of a chariot coming to carry them home; I know why I wrote 'I will be free.'

But then... the kingdom of God is here, it is now. Not I will be free...

I am free.