Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day - thoughts on worldly and godly simplicity

Memorial Day is supposedly to remember people who have died for America and all its wonderful things. But it's really to forget those killed, robbed, and terrorized so that we can be at ease at the expense of those invaded, bombed, and dominated. Let's not complicate our minds with such unwelcome thoughts, plague our ears with their cries, or trouble our eyes with the misery and destruction we visit upon them. Let's remember and dwell on the blood of our own to hide ourselves from the guilty awareness of the blood of others. Let's keep it simple.

In the Proverbs, such simplicity is not praised. We looked it up, and the word comes from a Hebrew word meaning to be wide open. And, indeed, along this line, Proverbs 22:3 says, "The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the simple go on, and are punished for it." This kind of simplicity is achieved by just disregarding anything that seems to complicate things and interfere with our taking the path of least resistance. It guarantees that we will "follow a multitude to do evil," as Moses warns us not to do.

On the other hand, Paul writes that he's afraid of our being seduced from the simplicity that is in Christ. We have two different simplicities here.

The simplicity in Christ is expressed in several ways. In Luke 10:25-42, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" gets two answers - the Samaritan shows mercy on the man beaten and left for dead, and Mary sits down and listens to Jesus instead of running around and being busy with many things. These are both the one essential thing, the answer to the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

In Philippians 3, Paul wrote that we are the true circumcision who worship in the spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh. These three in one arise from the one act of circumcision performed on us by God, as he causes our own many devices and complications to wither - specifically our worship of our own understanding, our glorying in all the kingdoms of this world with their flags and creeds and big plans, and our boundless confidence in our flesh and that of other people.

In this Paul is restating the same three essentials given in Micah 6:8, which reads, "What does the Lord require of you, O man, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" This is pretty simple guidance. It doesn't consider whether it covers our butts or exposes them, gains the favor of the honored men of this world, or makes us stand out so that we get hammered in. It considers simply whether it is just, whether it is merciful, and whether it is done by walking with our God, humbly, rather than in our own conceit or the wisdom of this world (Psalm 1). In short, are we doing this in the company of the God of truth?

This simplicity certainly comes into conflict with the world's simplicity, which is always to seek our own ease and the good opinion of those around us who can punish or reward us - which invariably means doing injustice to those who can't.

So there are two simplicities. One arises from ourselves and from this world, which the world will praise us for walking in, and which our own lust for ease and the praise of men will enjoy. And we finance this by disregarding or grinding up whoever is not in a position to gratify our lusts and to give us the honor and praise of this world. The way to live like that is to keep it simple - to take care not to examine too closely anything that we're thinking, saying, and doing. To do that, also hiding from ourselves that we are hiding that way, we keep entertained and distracted from such self-examination with many duties and even noble actions to feed our pride and self-delusion.

The simplicity of Christ is to know, as C. S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity, that there is really only one question - "Is it true?" As Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2, God goes so far as to raise up the Antichrist in order to send strong delusion upon all who do not receive the love of the truth, so as to get them condemned and removed from his house.

It is indeed very simple. Salvation depends on receiving the love of the truth - nothing else. That all must receive it reminds us that nobody has this love in ourselves naturally, because the truth says to each of us, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).

The simplicity of this world reduces everything to how I keep my life in this world. The simplicity of Christ reduces everything to how I follow Jesus through his death into his resurrection each day.

The simplicity of this world requires me to be stupid, not to notice whom I devour and betray into the hands of other predators so that I can live at their expense. It has no time for justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God, who if I walk with him will have lots to say about the things I have to do to live that way.

The simplicity of Christ requires me to hear the only wise God in everything and become wise at any cost. Justice, mercy, and humilty are all that matter. And yet, with these things God will give me all the other little things I need (Matthew 6:24-33), because doesn't my Father in heaven know that I need all these things that the world thinks it can get only by pushing him and everyone else out of the way?

These two simplicities have nothing in common. Which will we choose?

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