Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Gifts of God (an Advent devotional by an orthodox rebel)

"Behold, I do a new thing...." Isaiah 43:19

Existence is paradoxically simple and bewildering. It is mundane and it overwhelms. Like that strange little game with the black and white discs: minutes to learn but a lifetime to master. Mere existence takes only seconds to admit (if we are sane) but an apparent eternity to comprehend (again, if we are sane). Whenever we walk through it and amongst it, its presence is so commonplace that it becomes transparent. Whenever we pause and look upon it and think on it, its presence is so odd and its meaning so incomprehensible that it becomes equal parts beatific and monstrous. Ever tree is both a flowering wonder and a demon with a thousand bursting hands, shedding flakes of green blood and other fantastic colors. Even the size of the universe that we know of (and we know very little) overcomes us. The seemingly infinite expanse overhead is as wide and rolling as an open plain and as dark and gaping as an open maw. We shudder and we wonder, and then we try not to think about it.

Those who try to think about it hardly do better. Their quaint explanations run hollow, and only satisfy us in those deathly moments when the world is transparent rather than monstrous. Even we, as Christians, do no better. In the face of the universe, we spit the phrase "God did it," as though that solved the puzzle or ended the mystery. Only in the church pews, those deadest of the dead moments, can such a glib statement stick. Step out of the dusty church hall back into the wilderness wonderland outside, however, and that insubstantial thought drains from your soul like color from your face. It is not good enough to simply say, "God did it," for it does not answer the ultimate question of "Why?"

God is perfect, which means that he is complete or whole. He lacks nothing and needs nothing; if He didn't, then He wouldn't be God. Whence comes creation, then? It cannot be for Himself. There are some bizarre (though sincere) notions that creation is God's way of "completing" Himself, that each soul's experiences will fill up what is lacking in the Godhead. It sounds quite charming, and perhaps even lovely; but it is in error, for the Godhead cannot "lack" and still be the Godhead. So we are still left with the question of why: why did God make all of this stuff anyway?

Some would say that he made it for us, but that does not solve anything either. It is a matter of biblical authority and Christian orthodoxy that the earth and its fullness are the Lord's. All glory belongs to Him. Nothing in creation is "for" us in an ultimate sense; the heaven's declare His glory, no matter how beautiful they shine on us. Furthermore, even if it was "for" us, that still does not solve the problem, for why then did God make a creation that needed creation? What was the purpose of making needy beings? The neediness itself becomes one more facet to the "stuff" of existence, and so we are back to square one.

Herein are the two facts: God needs nothing, yet everything is for Him and His glory. What then, are we to make of this? I am no theologian, and am at best only an "arm-chair" philosopher, but I would posit this: it seems to me that existence is fundamentally arbitrary, i.e., it is there, but there is no reason why it should be here. It just is. Even though it gives glory to God, He does not need glory anymore than He needs creation. The whole thing is ultimately superfluous; yet there is a unique beauty to its superfluousness that is found in this fact: for God, superfluous does not equal meaningless. There is a reason to this random rhyme, and we have a name for something that is completely unnecessary and yet full to bursting with sweet meaning. It is called a gift.

All is a gift of God, and marvelous are His gifts. He did not make them because He needed glory, or stuff, or needy beings to need the stuff and give Him glory. Rather, he made it because He simply wanted to: for the sheer good and joy that is inherent in the act of creation, for the sheer joy of being able to see it and see that it is good. Every scrap of this universe is the bounty of God, a treasure whose light Sin can diminish but not extinguish, and some day it will burst forth in an eruption of brilliance and sound that will eat away the darkness like some benevolent cancer that restores the very cells of Being back to health. For redemption, too, is one of the gifts of God. Arbitrary, because the creation it saves is arbitrary; meaningful, because like the creation it redeems, it is chocked full of the goodness and delight of God, a substance that is weightier than the densest star and more infinite than the voids of Hell.

God's arbitration is not that of a machine; it is that of a Creator. He is not the steel-cold mind lost in a fog of its own frigid and abstract divinity. He is the supremely happy artisan, working wonders out of His own two hands, who makes out of the sheer delight for making and for no other reason; and every occurrence, whether it be good or ill from our view, is yet another chance for Him to prove His good pleasure. All glory is another place for creation, and all sin is for recreation. He makes all things new, always making a new thing out of His unquenchable gladness for making and newness. Thus it has always been and ever shall be.

In the vast, burning simplicity of perfect communion that was God's existence before Time began, the Godhead rolled up Their sleeves, and in Their Trinitarian nature said to Themselves, "Watch this." Thus was creation. When our first parents sinned, and death's black sorrows spread like spilt ink across that creation, God had already rolled up His sleeves and said to the host of Heaven, "Watch this." Thus was redemption. And I would like to think that when we reach that golden shore, and the grey rain curtain of this world fades away, and we finally past the threshold of Revelation's final chapter, and the last words of Time are written in the last book ever written, we will look into those glad eyes of the glad Creator and say, "Now what?" And He will smile, and roll up His sleeves, and say yet again, "Watch this," not out of necessity, but out of love, and goodness, and the sheer unutterable joy of gift-giving.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011


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  2. On topic comments, please. Randomness can only be introduced by me.