The flowers I pick
Die in my hand,
But flowers I can’t
Photo’s my own.
The flowers I pick
Die in my hand,
But flowers I can’t
Photo’s my own.
I just had a moment where I thought, “If I’m not a writer, am I anything?” meaning “anything of value.” I have an attachment to being a writer, or being a something, and attaining my idea of life. If I am not a writer, a thinker, an artist, a good father, someone who can control his addictions and his time, someone who can think without worry, who can find what he “should do,” who can understand, who has some unique skill or calling or benefit, who succeeds and is known for it, who doesn’t care about success or praise, who has useful and profound and beautiful thoughts, who hasn’t been found out as a failure in all these things—if I am not these things, am I anything?
But you don’t have to be anything. That’s just the message of those who disbelieve in their own innate and unchangeable value and who share that disbelief with others. Who disbelieve in life itself and have replaced it with what is death itself, the removal of life and the addition of toil, karma, earning, requirement, law, deservance, value by accomplishment, independence—which is just dependence upon things that are not life and cannot win it.
You are loved by your heavenly father; you are loved by God, who is life, who is your life, and you are his. And you are his. You are his. Because he has made you so, and not because he innately needs us, you are his life. He has made himself dependent upon you—not because he needs anything you have but because that’s love. In love, you are dependent upon the object of your love (see George MacDonald’s “Consuming Fire” sermon). Like the father of the prodigal son and of the elder son, you are wanted and chased after by him. You are drawn and taught and welcomed back with eager and open and warm and gratuitous and unbreakable arms.
So, if I am not a writer, I am loved by God, who is Life and whose love is to us life.
If I don’t know and choose the right job, I am loved. If I’m not qualified for any job that promises success or value, according to the unbelieving world, I am loved. If I’m not qualified for any job at all, I am loved. If I choose the wrong job, the wrong fit, the one that I will quit or fail at or leave, I am loved.
It almost makes you want to abandon, to avoid the world and its system of success, to not be led into it, if that were even possible. But your placement isn’t so much to stay in the right system as it is to be wherever God is with you. And he is with you with the rest of those who still need him, wherever they are. Right? “I learn so much, I remember who I am in my poverty (of all the things that are not God but that I feel like I need). Please keep me here.” Is that not “deliver us from temptation?” Is it not asking to be “the poor” in “blessed are the poor?”
Part of me wonders if persons typically associated with success—often persons that started young whatever successful activity they are now vocating—are merely addicts of whatever it is that they do. That is, they have reward circuits that allow them to get in a dark flow for that thing (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/the-machine-zone-this-is-where-you-go-when-you-just-cant-stop-looking-at-pictures-on-facebook/278185/; also Generation Wealth on Amazon Prime Video), that make them keep wanting to come back without end, that disable them from what would be more healthy activities. Maybe not, but if it’s not love, it has to be something like that, yes? I, at least, apart from love, can’t stick to something unless I’m addicted to it, it would seem. I just get bored and then curious about something else.
So I’m being reminded that the result of salvation is love and that loving is what I’m called to do. Loving. It’s the godly and essentially life-giving equivalent of “Here’s more money than you can imagine. Go spend it freely.” “Here’s the answer to death, itself. Go do it as much as you want.” I mean come on. We could be commanded to do worse things, yes? Anyways, I remembered that my big push to write was “writing is a good way for you to love.” I’ve been having some issues with my lack of motivation to do good. But it’s because of a lack of love. And that of course starts with knowing that I’m loved. So, you’re loved, and if you write or don’t, the reason for it, whatever it is, is love.
Kinda scary that to the degree that I’m godly I can do the thing(s) that I want to do most when I’m ungodly. Talk about a brilliant and devious temptation.
And one final thing. Had the thought this morning that I wonder if the toil promised to Adam was more of a blessing than a curse. It’s the toil that teaches him he needs God. It’s lack of toil (i.e., success, abundance, security) that poisons us with the lie that we need nothing and nobody.
We’ve fallen in a well, not the high seas. These aren’t carracks and caravels but the lashed-together collections of bodies, bobbing us about in the darkness. And if there’s a rope out, it’s not the sailor but the bobbing body that’s more apt to put his hand to it.
Give us this day our daily bread.
I was taught that this refers to what we need to learn. But isn’t it what we need in order to live? Not bread alone but every word of God’s, and Christ, himself, fully embodying and revealing that Word. But surely this also includes
wait for it
Sustenance, air, water, clothing, friends and family: whatever we need, as determined by God, just like the birds and the flowers, who don’t have storehouses or barns. At every moment, they depend on God’s provision (or withholding).
How different is modern American security? We idealize careers, we develop our CVs, we invest. All cultures sell their own flavors, but we sell Independence. “Need no one.”
But don’t go off to the woods just yet. Our assumptions need changing. Give us today whatever we need—food, friendship, capacity for love, ability to learn from our mistakes, changed assumptions…
Don’t we depend even in those things that secure us? Investments require stable markets. Careers require healthy minds and bodies. Commutes require that the gravitational forces that keep our tires upon the ground remain constant. We depend upon a sovereign and graceful God, who holds all things together.
And after praying for our bread, do we believe that he’ll give it and that, after the day’s provisions, we can say, “We received what we needed?” Do we depend even for that? Don’t we? Doesn’t Christ provide all things for life and godliness, so that all provision has as its core the death and resurrection of God? And while we were still sinners, did he not already give it?
Indeed he did. Give us this day our daily bread.
Is the fear of death, or the reaction against death, the impetus for all of our actions?
“‘The tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness,’ wrote J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter in 1957. He would often tell interviewers that The Lord of the Rings ‘is about death … and the search for deathlessness.'” (Not sure where I got this, but it’s not mine).
Surely Satan and Sauron seek power and dominion, and I had developed in my great antagonist a similar bent. I had concluded that their search was one of pride, one of seeking to surpass the Almighty, to become Almighty themselves, to be truly Independent. That is, they forget or disbelieve in their dependence on the One and step into faithlessness, into disobedience. Adam does this as well, having adopted the Serpent’s philosophy. Milton shows that Lucifer sought something higher than what he was given. He assumed independence, having become dissatisfied with God’s provision (without cause). Again we find lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, boastful pride of life.
But perhaps that’s not enough. For that’s probably how it starts (if I can even imagine what it’s like to have no sin nature and to make a sinful decision from a neutral state)—how it starts prior to one’s fall (or at its inception, rather, after which all things change). But after a fall, we all have death, the separation from the being from whom all life flows. And having death, do we not all seek to remedy ourselves, to recreate ourselves, to conquer the death that is in us and that we feel at all times, to conquer the death in the whole world? Does that not drive all of us into all that we do? If that’s the case, a being’s desire for true independence becomes one of self-preservation, which necessarily correlates with a separation from the Life Giver. No longer is Independence sufficient, or Independence for the sake of Supremacy or Mastery, but Independence to the end that we are safe and complete and whole, without requiring any other for any of our needs and/or desires (should they not match). But I suspect that our method of achieving this escape remains in the same vein to the fall, us having lost our connection to Life. We seek to recreate ourselves by means of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.
Of course, fear and false confidence are the two sides of pride. And to be sure, we feel both, sometimes even simultaneously. It is likely that it is not merely the flight from death that propels us but also the periodic belief that our swords and shields can defeat the dragon of death. Both drive us toward the same goal—to be independent. To be sufficient in and of ourselves.
God, give us a break, please.
But what you have is better. I’m sorry, but it’s for the better. I’m sorry not because I’m doing it but because I know you won’t like it.
God, send us back to Egypt. We at least had food there.
You have what you need here. In fact, you live not by mere food and shelter but by my very word. What you have is far better!
But we cannot bear the desert!
I don’t expect you to. But through it you will learn that you depend upon me. And you will learn to depend on me.
We find, though, that they lacked the faith for such dependence. Israel would fail. Like all mankind. Like me. Only one would succeed, and that’s why we need him. Christ succeeded, and on him we are dependent. Even when we do not depend upon him, we are dependent upon him. And he is faithful. Such that even when we want to return to Egypt, God keeps us in the wilderness.
The thing about the tower of Babel is that they probably would have finished it. The issue wasn’t that God was stopping them from failure. He was stopping them from success, lest they succeed in what would have been a small thing, in reality, but that would have convinced them of their greatness. God stopped them and scattered them lest they convince themselves that they didn’t need him.
Connect this with my own towers. I may actually be able to do these things. But I fall into confusion and worry and so remember that I depend upon God.
The reason this is important to me is because I often see other people succeed in these things that confound me and question whether my arrival at dependence upon God is valid. They do it fine. Why can’t I? Assuming these persons actually “do it fine,” what’s the disconnect? One might conclude that God disallows me from functioning independently. A scan of my history seems to indicate this. It certainly seems that unless I have an attitude of dependence, I am unable to refrain from anxiety when dealing with the success about which I care. Though of course that’s just one interpretation.
But this brings a more elemental issue to the front. I sometimes get dead-ended into thinking that I am dependent on God for success in these things. That’s true. But the point of Babel is broader and baser, I think. I’m dependent on an essential level, and that’s the real issue. I’m dependent for life, for sanity, for motivation, for love, for a future, for all of the assumptions upon which I function and also for success, even in things in which I am qualified, in the human sense.
God breaks me from my towers to remind me that I am dependent as creation to Creator, not just that I am dependent for the building of towers. The towers really aren’t the issue at all.
It is up to God for all good things.
That being true, I must conclude that mere addiction-breaking (in my case, media addiction), such as that which occurs for so many unbelievers, is either common grace or something short of good. Indeed, a lack of addiction with a lack of love is not good, though it may feel better (remember wanting to not be worried anymore when you still dealt with legalistic anxiety?). A lack of addiction with love is good. And God provides all good things.
Furthermore, it seems to me that this is another issue of sanctification, much like my initial issues with legalism, which started to unravel near the beginning of my time at DTS. And the big thing that changed concerning my understanding of sanctification is this—all salvation is by grace through faith. ALL SALVATION IS BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. That means that this token of sanctification—me escaping addiction and entering love, concerning media and work and the like—is BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. Could a person force themselves, apart from grace, to do a “good work?” Yes, but only if God provides the circumstances that allows them to do it, and it would lack the motivational, character elements that makes it truly godly, thus limiting to what degree it could be called “good.” Likewise, a person can force themselves to lose an addiction, God-permitting, but such would lack the goodness that comes from true salvation-sanctification. And it’s that salvation that’s desirable and good. The first is merely an idol or tower or ease or something. And it is a grace that God has not allowed me to settle for those things and has reminded me to desire the utmost, the greatest good that he could provide—salvation unto Christ-likeness.
So what should I desire? To escape this addiction into love—whatever love is lacking in conjunction with this addiction. How is it accomplished? By grace, through faith.
Of course, that means that it comes at the time and place and by the methods of God’s will. Not mine. And like all salvation, it is his prerogative to give it or not to give it. And he is good regardless of his choice and timing. (Correction—his choice and timing are good, even when I don’t perceive them as good, in which case the problem is whatever I have set as my standard for good).
Another thing. I said before that building the tower was in their means. That’s true, but only in part. They depended on God for their being, for their genes, for their circumstances, and for everything else short of whatever it is we choose of our own accord, to whatever degree that is possible.
5/1/2017—Dependence became a pretty big theme for me last year. I think I wrote this document nearing the hilltop of my personal development on the subject (up to this point). It came on the heels of having our third child, interacting with my dad’s recurring cancer, failing to buy a house, and failing to conquer (after three months of success) my lifelong addiction to video games.
Dependence ended up in the novel I’m working on, as well. An important part of my cosmogony (and therefore the framework for my story) concerns dependence/independence, and I did a lot of work on the idea outside of the cosmogony. I hope to make the latter available at some point.