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Bonfire of the vanities

Saturday, March 10, 2018

From Hosea 6
It is the Lord who has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up to live in his presence. Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord. As certain as the dawn is his coming. He will come to us like the rain.

“The God who consigns human beings to condemnation is the same God who gives himself up to a violent death to save those same human beings, ‘for God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all’ (Rom 11:32 – Rutledge, The Crucifixion, p. 412-413)

God’s violence is different from ours. Before spanking me my dad would say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you,” I didn’t believe him. But God says the same thing, and I do believe him.

Hosea points out the jerkiness of our experience with God, or at least our experience with life. But is God capricious? Does God change like Illinois weather? Is he careless with his kids?

Someone said, “God strips us naked before he clothes us.” Not a gentle passing, this. Rutledge points to Flannery O’Connor, a southern writer of fiction who spent time reading Thomas Aquinas every night before bed. She “designed her stories with violence specifically to illustrate the invading action of God in delivering his children. God’s ‘violence’ is begun, carried out, and completed in the love of God.”

Jesus could not have died a more violent death. Ripped apart by a vicious whipping and then crucified with nails pounded through his feet and hands, within a very short time he could no longer breathe out, but only in. His lungs and heart collapsed. He descended into hell.

This was Jesus-God up there dying, substituting himself for me. And this oblivion meant that God the Father was separated from God the Son in a way that makes no emotional, metaphysical, theological or physical sense. Like the centurion we are left mouthing simple phrases still profound. “Truly this was the Son of God.” What else can we say?

In her story “Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor watches as old Ruby Turpin’s eyes are opened. Jesus will not let her go. Always Ruby has held her Pharisee’s head high, but in a moment of emotional and physical violence she falls, folds into herself, and discovers the humbled prayer of the tax collector (Luke 18).

She bent her head slowly and gazed, as if through the very heart of mystery, down into the pig parlor at the hogs. They appeared to pant with a secret life. A visionary light settled in her eyes. A vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven, whole companies of white-trash, battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting, clapping, and leaping like frogs. Bringing up the end were the people like herself. They marched behind the others with great dignity. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

Lord, you are always good but you never promised to be safe. Where did I ever get the idea that you were safe? Your touch is gentle but firm as you shape me, mold me and make me into the child of God you know I am. This is the life I live, the life you give me every day.

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