Monday, December 26, 2005

Courage; or: Everything that Can Be Known

Some years ago I was in a bookstore -- of course -- browsing. Over my left shoulder I heard a strange wheezing, a sort of hissing and gurgling. I looked, and being a kind and discreet man, showed no reaction other than friendliness at the sight. The fellow didn't have hair. Any hair at all -- eyebrows even. He didn't have ears. Or a nose. Or lips. Or fingers. He had, you see, been in a fire. Or rather, he'd been on fire.

What would you do if you had a face to make dogs bark and babies cry? What would you do if your genitals had been burned off? -- for surely his had been. Scar tissue cannot feel caresses.

But this man got up in the morning and dressed himself, and cared for his needs, and went for a walk beneath the bright blue sky to a bookstore, to thumb through the detective novels ... well, not thumb...

This man must have been really evil. Or else he must be better than God. Or...

I've alluded to it before: "Hey, Jesus -- why did that tower fall and kill those people? -- and why were all those other people just slaughtered? Were they more wicked than other men?" And Jesus said, "Just you look to your own repentance." But I've left something out. First Jesus says, "No." They were not more wicked. Either the idea that we live in a fallen world is an explanation, or it's religious claptrap and there is no God -- no good God.

I've alluded to it before: answer a fool according, or not according, to his folly. Be both a serpent and a dove. Not against therefore for, not for therefore against. Either these are bald contractions, and stupidly obvious, or they are not just definitions, but applications of what wisdom is.

I've alluded to it before: the One God who presents himself in this universe as a Trinity -- a Trinity, for crying out loud. Jews put God on trial and find him guilty, then go worship him -- well, they did this twice, actually, and worshiped only as prisoners in a concentration camp, rather than as princes of the Sanhedrin. Either we must allow for complexity within both the hearts of men and the nature of God, or we must live in a black/white universe of pat answers that don't make us think.

Imponderables are easy. It's that sophomore stuff, of, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears does it make a sound. No -- if you define "sound" as something that is heard. Does it make sound waves? Certainly -- we live in a phenomenological universe, but subject to the laws of phenomenon. Or Zeno's paradoxes: Before it hits its target, an arrow must travel half the distance, but first half of the half, and before that half of the half of the half ... so it can never reach its target, busy as it is infinitely halving its distances. Yet it does reach its goal. The fallacy, of course, is that space, like time, is not infinitely divisible. At a certain infinitesimally small place, a thing must be either here, or there, but cannot be in between -- the quantum leap of quantum mechanics. A thing must be either now, or then, but not in between. As I say, imponderables are easy, once you clarify the terms.

The universe is both descrete and a continuum, digital and analogue, particle and wave, virtual and actual. It is yes/no, and it is maybe. And when we finally get around to understanding this not-very-difficult idea about the material and manifest universe we live in, the "theological" "paradox" of free-will and pre-destination resolves itself.

From God's perspective, election. From man's perspective, choice.

A thing is what it is, regardless of our agreement or understanding. This is my anthem, and I sing it a lot. God is what he is. He desires all men to be saved. But not all men are saved. Therefore God doesn't always get his way. But if he elects, why doesn't he elect all. After all, he desires to elect them... Because he can't elect all. Why not?

I don't know.

The way I've said it in the past, is that some people have garbage for souls, and can't be saved. They are vessels of dishonor, because of the substance of their souls. There is a long metaphysical history of such ideas, which I will not go into. The way I see it, such an explanation is only a metaphor, anyway. What I do know is that God is subject to his nature, which is a good and proper thing.

And regardless of the garbaginess of some souls, God would save them if he could. How do I know? Because Jesus already paid for them, already ransomed them. God would do everything he could do, since he desires all men to be saved. He could suffer for them, so he did. As I see it, that lets God off the hook. God is off the hook, because Jesus is on the cross. The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. I tend to agree, but that's just me. What I know is that through Jesus' suffering, I have life. Some question God with a seeking heart, and some with the heart of Pharaoh. But God hardened Pharaoh's heart the way you wring out a dish-rag -- the dirt that was in it pours out ... a garbagy soul.

So those who came whining to Jesus, "What about all these terrible things that keep happening?" -- Jesus always had the same answer, "Repent, lest something worse happen to you." He could have given a learned disquisition about complexity and wisdom and faith. But it wouldn't have done any good. Instead, he showed his love, by giving his life.

Love has value, in itself. Life has value, in itself. I once saw a man who had nothing to live for. Or so it would seem. But I don't think I've seen more courage then I saw in him, standing, wheezing, leafing through a book. Anyone who would learn about complexity or wisdom or faith -- or justice -- or love -- would do well to consider him. If nothing else, we learn a distant lesson about suffering and courage. At best, we learn gratitude. Who has ears, let him hear.


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