May 13, 2010

Sent away empty

I don't know if I've had another bout with depression recently or what, but I've been feeling convicted, to say the least. I can't tell if I have chronic minor depression, or anxiety, or does everyone who studies theology go thru these kinds of emotional upheavals? (Caedmon?) I'm a bit scared of the grand ideas swimming (and colliding) around in my head - the nature of sin, soteriology, theodicy, and the like. Here's one of the things really bugging me:

If God is just (He is), and God has said that the rich will [hardly|barely|not] enter the Kingdom (He has), and America is full of the richest people the world has ever seen (it is), what hope do we have?

Now I know valid "pro-rich" analyses in relation to the passage. But I still can't help "feeling" (Stupid feelings. If men knew how much emotion they would start to experience after fatherhood, there would be no babies.) conviction that Americans, and especially those of us in the top 10% of wage earners ... well, I can't even describe the feeling. Guilt? Condemnation? Reprehension? There's just something unsettling about Jesus words spoken to a "rich man" who would be extremely poor by modern America's standards.

This morning I was reading my New Testament textbook. (The class is over, but I didn't get to read it all during class - had to keep jumping around to finish my homework on different books.) Johnson was discussing the prophetic motif of Luke's Gospel - demonstrating how the Sermon on the Plain fulfills the programmatic prophecy of the Magnificat. The combination of the woes for those who are rich - who "have their consolation now" as fulfillment of Mary's prophecy of the rich "sent away empty" really struck this cord with me. Do I have consolation in this world? I have a (luxurious) house, plenty of (extravagant) food, a full wardrobe of (geeky) clothes, and a plethora of luxuries and entertainments to pass my time.

Now here comes a point ...

Despite (probably because of?) all that, the prospect of being "sent away empty" is actually a relief to me. It's like one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes - "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." Even with all my "stuff" I desire something more - something else. So when I read that I could be "sent away empty", I'm starting to understand that for those of us who are rich in this world, that statement is really a statement of graceful relief - of salvation, not condemnation. I hope and pray I stay willing to lose this all for the something more and else that I really want.
I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.

Or am I just rationalizing away the guilt of my own extravagance?


Saint said...

That's part of why I decided to go poor for a while. And the longer I'm here, the more I learn that wealth (or lack thereof) has relatively little to do with happiness or joy, and as I see it, the Kingdom of God. It's our intent, our embracing of God and of His gifts, that are the real factors in life.

Kristi said...

I don't think Jesus was telling us that if we are rich, we will lose out. The reality is, he asked a man if he is willing to get rid of everything and follow him. (I don't have the text in front of me, so I'm going from memory.) I think the point was that your focus is not on what you have, and you don't hold onto it too tightly. I think I've heard somehwere that the poor give more freely than the rich. that is astounding. But maybe by being poor, they understand what it is to truly need and the appreciation of getting your needs met. For some, having more means disconnecting from the real world. Ever met someone who had no money, then married someone well off, and they lost sight of how hard it was to exist before that marriage? I have, and it's frustrating when they forget where they came from. Maybe the point is to look at Jesus, look at God, and not forget where we came from, no matter what we have.

caedmon said...

Big questions. Very big questions. Wish I had an answer - all I really have are my own struggles. Do theological studies result in depression? Are the depressed inclined to theological studies? Are we insane because of our studies or do our choice of studies prove our lack of sanity? I'm not sure I want to know.

Wrestling with God is serious business. Everyone who has ever seriously grappled with God has come away humiliated, burdened, and battered. To step into the open space is to risk total annihilation.

You might spend some time with Luther's Heidelberg Disputation. I'm not a Lutheran and there's much in his writing and theology I don't agree with, but he's onto something important in the theological theses of the HD. Don't just read the bullet point theses, but read his arguments for each, as well. Gerhard Forde has a book, "On Being a Theologian of the Cross" that is quite good if you want help understanding it. Or, I've got a series of articles that will hopefully be published this summer. :)

I seriously doubt the Disputation will make all the questions go away, but it has helped me see the whole situation you write about in this post from a different perspective.

Matt said...

Big questions indeed. The 'wealth question', I'll label it, is one I've often considered myself.

Something I learned from one of my professors here at Regent, Dr. Corne Bekker, is the importance of understanding the spirit of the law above the actual letter of the law. Such an understanding seems well suited in this discussion.

I am of the school of thought that thinks Jesus used many different literary devices in his teachings, including exaggeration.

With both of these beliefs in hand, what I take from the passage of 'the rich young ruler' is in agreement with Kristi. It's not the material wealth itself that brings us down, but the faith we place in it. The lesson is to always recognize the true source of wealth.

Kelsy said...

You always make me think, Luke. :)

I'm kind of with Kristi on this one. I don't think that if you have material wealth that you are not going to get into heaven...because ultimately it's not by our works. It's by our faith and his mercy and grace. There's nothing I can do to earn his salvation.

I think that's where the young rich ruler missed out is that he couldn't accept that he couldn't buy his way in, in a sense. He put his wealth and his money over his trust in Jesus and walked away. What Jesus was asking was for full commitment to him, trust. And the young rich ruler couldn't give him that.

luke said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Caedmon, I'm reading the Disputation. Really liking Luther. Is that bad for a Catholic? ;) I'll look for that book, and look forward to your articles.

So here's the doozie of a followup ...

How can we know if our answer or interpretation of this 'wealth question' is genuinely and honestly seeking for "God's Honest Truth" or just rationalizing?

Like I said, I can understand the answers we've got, and I mostly agree with them. But I'm a perpetual doubter and skeptic. One of the more convincing characteristics of Christianity, for me, is how much it flows *against* my natural desires - it's not the kind of religion we would make up just to feel better about ourselves. But then I believe Christ actually changes us - He transforms our desires towards God.

But how do I know the difference between an authentic Christ-like desire and pleasure and my own desires and pleasures?

Kelsy said...

I once heard, or read, that when you doubt, it's God working things out with you. I think it's natural for human beings to doubt...we don't have the mindset. Anyway, it comforted me to know it was okay to doubt.

But, yea I'm like you Luke. Sometimes I'll think I hear God speaking to me...but then think, well wait...was that me just thinking of that in my head? Did I just make that up, or did he really put that into my mind. The answer: I don't know. Maybe He changed my desires to match His? Possible. It all comes down to the fact that I have no clue lol.

It's hard stuff.

Kristi said...

Let's face it--we will never have all the answers. We will always question and rationalize. I think fatherhood does put a new burden on you, because you are not just thinking of yourself, but the image you are creating for your child. You want to do everything right.

I still think it has to do with value. How much we value what we have, materially? We only have it due to the mercy of God. Are you afraid of losing what you have?

If you makes you feel any better, I've lost so much stuff a few times over in life. I have bounced back. I have survived witha new appreciation.

But Luke, you and Tiff don't have this materialistic air about you. I know you are a gadget geek. I know you have it good. But you don't rub it in faces. You are REAL. You are approachable. Istn't that what God values more than poverty?

luke said...

Yeah, I guess I'll never get away from doubting myself. Even if others say right out that I'm not materialistic I will always fear that I am. Maybe that's a good thing - so long as it doesn't consume me. Joey would say that ascetism or austerity can be a disordered good when taken too far. Kristi's right up there with our theology headmaster! ;)

Esther Crouch said...

I'm playing catch-up ... haven't blogged in a while.
I totally agree with your concerns about wealth and its implications, but I think there's a danger that lies at the other end of the spectrum too. Growing up, my family *never* had any money. Which had the advantage of creating a lot of teachable moments on faith and God's provision, but it's easy for that to almost become a source of pride for me. "Well, I'm happy for you and all your nice luxurious stuff, but MY family had to learn how to rely on God and not money/themselves etc for everything." So while having a lot of material things may be a stumbling block for people who choose to put their faith in stuff, having very little isn't an automatic remedy! I think Shawn nailed it when he said it's about our hearts' intent and what we do with what God gives. I could be a rich, generous, grateful person - or a poor, proud, anxious person; the real issue isn't the possessions but the heart.

Saint said...

Nothing wrong with liking a little Luther. Luther was an avid Catholic, after all. He didn't intend to break up the Church, and the Church itself later made many of his suggested reforms, just a couple of hundred years later.

Had the Council of Wyrms happened a bit differently, had there been less corruption in the Church, and had there not been an underlying power struggle in the Holy Roman Empire, we might now be calling Luther a Saint. But unfortunately for him and the Church, things happened as they did.