12/5/2016: On The Fear of Death

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.

11/22/2016: On Ambition

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m worried about being a good writer. Or really even just being “a writer,” as if it’s some special breed of human. Indeed, it seems like most articles raise them up, along with other artists, to a pseudo-deity, much the same as celebrities. It draws all my ambition.

A godly man would view fame and wealth as all but worthless—at least for the normal reasons I pursue them. Tolstoy did, but only after discerning their worthlessness from experience. They are utility. Reach more people. Help more people. They carry the responsibility of the Talents, much like my education. Without these, they are merely the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is as much an idol—identifying myself as a writer—as identifying myself as, or making myself, a good person was in the past. I take the question “Who am I?” as impetus for becoming praiseworthy. But such is the flavor of my sin nature. And it seems that, like in my character perfectionism, God has forbidden me from attaining my desired identification. I fall into intense insecurity long before I succeed. It is my Babel Tower toppling. Baal failing to light the fire. God disallowing me from feeling independent of him.

And just as in the case of wanting to be and know that I am a good person, being and knowing that I am a good writer are bound by God’s will and thus dependent upon his grace, just like the toppling of the tower. That is, God could let me continue to build my tower. He could let me succeed. He could let me take credit for it for the rest of my life, just like he does for so many successful persons (according to worldly standards). But in grace, he reminds me that I am indeed dependent upon him. And not only does he remind me, but in grace he gives me belief. That is, if he does. I cannot force his hand in this, else it would not be grace. I cannot manipulate his timing. I am helpless to change my independent assumptions, and therefore all of my motivations for things that accord with independence, by myself. These things usually involve some measure of personal greatness: christian character, artistic skills, creativity, intelligence, good looks.

A few thoughts:

First, I don’t have to know that I am a good writer to be a good writer, even though I imagine it would help in determining my vocation. I say this because I feel particularly down at the thought that I might not be good—a product of my insecurity at the moment. But I guess this is just me trying to reassure myself according to that same system (of being a good writer). At the same time, perhaps I just want to know what the best use of my time is right now, and I assume that the best use involves doing what I do well (or the best). But I wonder if that’s the best criteria for choosing what to do. In and of itself, choosing to do what we are best at has little value. Choosing to do what we do best in order to help people has merit, but of course such purity requires character, which requires grace. But perhaps choosing to do what God has put before you is best. Or perhaps my worry about what to do involves another fear—what if I choose the wrong thing to do? Just another branch of the insecurity vine. In any case, I cannot outignorance or outevil the sovereignty and goodness of God. Choose what is in my head and heart to choose.

Second, there is a measure of clear-mindedness in spite of the fear of not being a good writer to determine that I am at least good enough and interested enough to pursue writing. Such has been the conclusion so far, though the fear persists. Again, it seems like I just want to assure myself that writing is the best path. It may be. Why I want to assure myself of this—perhaps because of my insecurity. See above.

Third, all sanctification is by grace through faith. Being a good, loving writer—the goal worth having—is by grace through faith. Trusting God and being humble (contra insecurity) are also goals worth having. And in God’s grace, he may topple my tower of writing well (agnostic of love) in order to teach me writing in the slums. Or he may forbid writing altogether. It’s up to him, and it’s good.

I want to write well primarily because of ambition (right now anyways). I have not wanted to write well to enhance my ability to reach people, to build the world—at least I have not noticed that motive. I believe that desire is in me, but it takes second seat to my pride. Tolstoy moves from the first to the second as well: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/16/leo-tolstoy-purpose-diaries-youth/ and https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/11/20/tolstoy-on-motives/

If this will change, it will be by grace through faith.

And in the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep writing. Until the next time God topples one of my towers.

If I end up being a professional writer, I wonder if I will always bounce back and forth between purer motives and ambition.

I was reminded that Lewis wrote about what tempts me. I think it was in The Great Divorce. He wrote about the artist who became more enamored with the craft of painting than about that which he painted, though he was initially interested in painting because he wanted to capture a bit of the beauty he saw and share it with others. While reading those articles on Tolstoy, I realized that I have become fixated on the craft of writing—I imagine because I believed it to be the quickest route to praiseworthiness. But the sincere writer records himself, not just his skills, not just his interesting thoughts. He records his emotions, and so his values, his beliefs, his struggles, his flaws. And he shares himself with the world. He connects with it. Perhaps in hopes that he can help it along its way. Perhaps also in hopes that it can help him. Or perhaps just because he’s part of it, and our grand design is to proliferate, to create, to cultivate, and he wants to contribute to humanity’s effort toward this end. I think it was realizing that I have failed to do this that my insecurity began in this episode. I failed in this regard, God made it obvious to me, and I fell apart, having come to depend upon being a good writer rather than upon God. I sell my loyalty for trifles.