Facing our Finitude

After seeing Gravity last night, Psalm 8 has taken on new meaning and depth for me.


Lord, our Lord,how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels[e]
and crowned them[f] with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their[g] feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The magnitude of this movie’s artistry and depiction of space was incredible. So incredible that I can confidently say that my stress level was at an all-time high (for a movie that is) at every moment throughout the entirety of its ninety minute airtime (and for two hours after I left the theater).

Encountering space in this movie was surprisingly frightening to me. I was overwhelmed by the reality of the universe and how truly foreign it is to us who reside on Earth. Not only did its foreign nature scare me, but how it made me feel afterward was particularly palpable. It sounds silly, but space it not something that I think about all that much. I don’t tend to bring it up in conversation and I think there is a reason for that (besides the fact that I know next to nothing about the universe we live in). I think that when I talk about it I am faced with how small, limited, and finite I am. As I watched this movie last night I could not escape from encountering these feelings.

The consistent undercurrent throughout this movie was the obvious lack of control the two key astronauts had over an untamed universe. Every scene in the movie seemed to contain some sort of catastrophy where the astronauts were faced with their finitude and ultimately death. “What is man that you are mindful of him?”-I ask that question with sincerity after seeing this movie.

Trying to imagine space and then trying to imagine God is incredibly difficult for me. The ever-expanding universe is already too much much for my imagination to consider, but then to imagine a God who created that by speaking it into existence is on another level. It would seem logical to state that because the universe is vast and unknowable that its creator must be even more unknowable and uninvolved in the existence it created. Though this seems logical (maybe it doesn’t for you), we see in Psalm 8 that God is not logical in the way that we think He should be (cue verse 2).

While God is vastly different than us, he is not unknowable. Yes, all creation (including the universe and infinite galaxies) was crafted by a God who spoke it into being. The God who created all things also decided to reveal himself through a baby. It was through a very particular Jew named Jesus that we see the God who created the universe putting on human flesh and pursuing humanity. Absolutely unfathomable isn’t it? Hence, in verse 2 of Psalm 8 it says, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” While there is so much of God that remain mysterious there is also so much we can know through this particular God-man named Jesus. He became one of us, identifies with us, knows us, and rescues us.

The False Self

Have you ever seen the movie Into the Wild? I have always placed it as my all-time favorite movie, but to be honest, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the two Sherlock Holmes movies are in the running as well. Into the Wild is based on a true story of a man named Christopher McCandless, who graduated from college and from there left everything in his possession behind (even went as so far to burn his social security card). He was on a pilgrimage and his destination was Alaska. He was a deep thinker who had thoughtful and meaningful questions about life. One of the things I admire about him was that he did not simply swallow the answers his culture fed him. He was a radical no doubt, and although he realized at the end of his life that his initial conclusions were wrong, the journey that he took was a precious one. When Christopher finally arrived and had spent some time in Alaska alone, he carved these words on a piece of wood:

Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no20130318-173123.jpg cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild

His ultimate goal in this spiritual pilgrimage was to kill the “false self” within. It is a noble pursuit certainly, and in some ways I think it is the pursuit of the Christian as well. What I am particularly interested in as of late though is what perpetuates the need for the false self? Why do we tend to keep the multiplicity of masks and to show ourselves to others as something we are not? This happens both in and out of the church, but it is particularly troubling when it happens within a believing community. The church is a place for self-proclaimed wounded healers and nothing more. Out of the awareness of our brokenness and the love lavished on us by God we are to be healers in the world. The question remains: Why do we struggle with perpetuating the false self to deceive others and ourselves of who we really are? My one thought for this blog is this: how we have been received by people in the deep of our bad has shaped whether or not we abandon the false self or keep it around to guard from the further wounding that could come from revealing to others who we truly are.

I suppose what I am getting at specifically is how we have been received when/if we confess our sin to another (although the above idea could be applied to more than that) human being. What we have received from people when we reveal our true nature determines a lot about us I am afraid. I think it goes back to how we were raised, and how we were disciplined by our parents as well. Have you been met with disdain, bitterness and punishment or with unending grace and love? It something worth reflecting on, because all of this in turn affects what we project onto to God, too. My favorite dead person, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this about confession:

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody conceals his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

I love Bonhoeffer in this and everywhere else. To break the cycle of perpetuating the false self we need people in our who are willing to be an extension of Jesus’ grace and mercy. Just like Jesus, we need to be people and include people in our lives who are compassionate and therefore like Nouwen states, “for them, nothing human is alien”. We fear being unloved in the deep of our bad, and yes we are deeply loved by Jesus, but part of being loved by Jesus is experiencing this reality in community. It is only the person who is an extension of Christ’s grace who can hear the sin of another and have compassion on that person and speak to them the truth of profound grace and reassurance. We need that in our churches in order to curb the false self that keeps trucking along without any interruption. We can come out of hiding to be exposed yet simultaneously fully embraced. I think the killing of the false self begins by throwing it off and locating people who will mirror and reflect how Jesus receives us.

Insight from the Matrix

I was watching the Matrix with my roommate the other day. To be honest, I was eight when this movie came out and at the time I  thought it was weird. This notion can probably be attributed to the fact that I simply didn’t understand it.

Anyway, there is a part in the movie when Neo miraculously saves Trinity. Morpheus, after recovering from being drugged up, walks towards Neo and says to him:“There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”  Morpheus says this to Neo in hopes of helping him realize that no matter what anyone tells him, he alone has the make the choice to walk the path even if he might not know it precisely at first. I can probably draw more biblical principles from than this quote than trying to figure out what it actually means in the context of the movie, so lets skip to that.

I have been reading 1 John lately. As I have read it, I have felt that the distinction that Morpheus capitulates to Neo does not only resonate with myself but it does even with the earliest of Christians.

For example, in 1 John 1:6-7:

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. ”

Notice John’s use of words in verse six. We don’t merely walk in darkness because we don’t know the truth, in fact we do know it, but it is because we don’t practice it. The greek word is poiumen which means to cause, make, or carry out. There is a distinction between knowing the truth and carrying it out. Did Jesus merely come to throw doctrine at us? No, but we are to live as if that doctrine has infultrated every corner of our live, or as John puts in 2:4-6:

“Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

This is our proof that we know him. It is not that we are perfect, but the love of God is being perfected in us by walking in the truth of his word. In no way am I stating that everything that we believe is correct. I know that there are an abundance of lies and fallacies that we tend to believe and that need continual conversion. I am saying that what we do know, that being the truth of the gospel, isn’t understood in a way that always translates into the way we live our lives.

When expounding the gospel, I often do so by hurling doctrines at the person I am speaking to instead of explaining the gospel in light of the person Jesus Christ and his call to Kingdom living. The gospel is a call to a new way to be human. One of obedience, life, and love. We must walk in that which we know, for this is the cost of the disciple.