Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Kind of Secular Liturgy (versus the one necessary liturgy)

"Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire. Mine ears hast thou opened! Burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. [...] I delight to do thy will, O my God. Yea, thy law is within my heart." Ps. 40:6, 8

The unbelieving world is all about outward manifestations devoid of an inner reality. This is true not just on a philosophical level but also on a practical one. The concern is with doing good rather than being good. As long as there are outward acts of charity, the private greed does not matter. As long as there are outward gestures of reconciliation, the private bitterness is irrelevant. As long as there are outward actions of selflessness, it makes no difference what private advantage that I plot for myself. Almost all good activities of the world are an outward show, a kind of secular liturgy meant to impress ourselves, others, or (if we're in a religious mood) God.

It is true that some flashes of true magnanimity happen here and there. The lingering residuals of the imago dei sometimes flicker and burn, but they always fade. True acts of goodness are the exception, not the rule. They never last, and for every one of them there is easily a hundred self-centered corruptions waiting in the wings. Our actions cannot save us; they are constantly undercut by the fallen human heart. Consequently, it is never actions that concern God; it is always the heart (Is. 1:10-20; Rom. 2:17-29). The advocacy of good being is often written off as impractical and apathetic idealism. Such thinking is nonsense. What you do is a direct result of who you are, and if you are rotten then what you do will be rotten in some way. It is who you are that is the problem; thus, there is only one necessary liturgy whereby men may be saved, only one outward manifestation intimately connected to an astounding inward reality: the Cross of Christ, where God reconciled the world back to Himself (Rom. 3:23-26; II Cor. 5:17-21).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

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