Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Extremist (The Six Shades of Sin, Part II)

"Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning [so] that they may pursue strong drink; [who] continue until night, till wine inflames them! [...] they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands." Is. 5:11-12

Immoderation has always been misunderstood mainly because moderation is misunderstood. Moderation is often associated with a puritanical sense of abstinence, which it was never meant to be. It was never meant to be about abstinence but balance. This is a fact as old as human thought: the virtuous life is the point between extremes. For example, courage is not an extreme passion or pursuit but rather a moderate one. Cowardice and recklessness are the extremes, and thus they are the vices. Love is moderate; lust and apathy are the extremes. In short, moderation is not the life of a dullard or bore. On the contrary, it is the adventurous life, a perilous and precarious walk on the edge of a knife, the maintaining of a precious balance between two equal yet opposite points of mania. Such an endeavor calls forth the best from us, for as Chesterton put it, "There is an infinity of angles by which one falls but only one by which one stands." Any fool or weakling can go mad; it is easy to be insane, to be extreme. Sanity is the true struggle and spectacle. Vice can only be a sputter; virtue alone can be a song.

That virtue requires real struggle and adventure is the thought behind the ancient notion that evil was not only fundamentally wicked but also fundamentally dull. It takes the easy way out, settling for a lesser post. Much to the chagrin of popular perception, the evil life is ultimately lackluster because it is a stunted life. It always leaves something out. Rather than maintaining the healthy and powerful balance between caution and action (which we call courage), they succumb to either one extreme or the other, leading either the sedentary life of endless caution or the chaotic life of endless action. Likewise, rather than maintaining the healthy and joyous balance between restraint and pleasure (which we call love), they grow weary of the effort and slide into either joyless apathy or joyless lechery. In either case, they do not have love.

The immoderate life, the joyless, dull, inconsequential life, stems from one source: "they regard not the work of the Lord." Like all sin and all its insanity, the immoderate life is the life that disregards God. Is this any wonder? God is the supreme picture of sanity, of balance, of rigorous and living order that knows no extremity and therefore knows no ennui. In His trinitarian dance, we see His balance: Father begetting, Son creating, Spirit proceeding. Give and take, surrender and acceptance, obedience and love without confusion or division, nor dominion or neglect. The balance is perfect, the dance is tight, and thus the Being is One. Likewise in the Incarnation, we see the same balance: neither humanity dissolved into deity nor deity subsumed into humanity, but rather both gloriously preserved in hypostatic union, neither nature lacking or dominating. Both are maintained at the absolute fever-pitch of their intensity, and the God-man is One. God is the Great Sanity against all of our myriad madness. Both in His character and His actions, He proves how consistently we fall short of the glory of His moderation.

When God's people were not His people and did not know Him, He gave them an identity through a religion; but when that religion turned into dead formalism and meaningless rite, He broke their religion (Is. 1:10-15) and spoiled their identity (Is. 5:1-7). When Messiah came, He continually frustrated and bewildered both His enemies and His friends, for they could only conceive of Him as either this or that when He was both this and that. He was both conqueror and conquered, the breaker and the healer, the judge and the victim, the poor and the king, He who was dead and yet lives. The sanity of God frustrates our every plan, for our world is a ship of fools and the lunatics run the asylum. Sanity is only insanity to the insane, and moderation is only a threat to the extremist.

Even today God's holy sanity bears witness against us. We who are caught up in the seemingly endless euroclydon of American Christianity often find ourselves tossed about with wave upon wave of doctrines or fads or movements or agendas or politics or some other unholy alliance between the Christian Faith and a fleeting element of American culture. We hear the siren calls every day as we walk a hairline between an array of Scylla's and Charybdis's. To remain moderate in such an environment is to live a life on the edge, but it is on the edge where we find God, and make no mistake: it is God who we must desire if we are to live moderately. It cannot be out of duty or drudgery but out of love, love for God and His Christ, for all that they are and all they have done and are doing and will do. God must be the highest, our all in all, with every thought or plan or scheme or desire or inkling or good intention made captive to the glory and supremacy of His sweet moderation. That is what it means to live moderately: not to wallow in prudery, but to every day, bit-by-bit and step-by-step, dance the dance of God, where all things find their place, and all of life is consumed into the holy harmony of His fullness.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012