This Momentary Beast

Occasionally we think of our lives and how they are affected by our sin.  (Usually we are more consumed with how the sin of others affects our lives, but we’ll set that aside for the moment.) At a certain point also some of us consider how our sin, stretching back to Adam, has affected Creation, corrupting literally the entire world.  There is nothing our sin has not tainted.

And so – I thought, which is always a dangerous thing – what about time itself?  How has our sin, collectively and individually, affected time?  We unconsciously think in terms of aging and decay: everything fades with time.  Even when we talk about enjoying the moment, we lie to ourselves.  Every moment we find ourselves enjoying is in the past by the time we realize it has brought us happiness.  We are grasping at our histories even as we seize the day.

The greatest joys of our life become wearisome to us, given enough time.  And what is this, but the greatest of sin’s corruptions? Given an eternity to worship our Creator, we chose to steal a moment of sinful pleasure, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

We took the beauty and wonder of eternal discovery, eternal growth, eternal intimacy, and we corrupted it through our sin into nothing more than a relentless destroyer, a slavering beast.  And beast it remains, devouring each second of our lives.  It knows neither joy nor remorse: and beauty having become beast, it slips its fangs between the seconds, rending our futures instantaneously into our pasts.  Fears and hopes, joys and sorrows, they become, as the great Preacher said, vanity.  The beast we call the present devours all.

Or perhaps this explains it better: there are whiny children at Disneyland.

Through the wide, ever-hungering jaws of the present every moment of the future in this world must pass.  Until…

Until our mockery of God’s creative power – our sin, our efforts to remake everything in our own image, our twisting of dominion into rebellion – ceases.  For while the beast is sovereign over every single moment of human history since Genesis 3, it reigns at the sufferance of a Sovereign greater still.  And that Sovereign is set not simply on redeeming men, but every aspect of His glorious Creation.

Consider this.  There will be a moment when weariness ceases.  When hope beyond anything we’ve ever dared to hope is realized, and does not become part of the past, but an eternal victorious moment in which we dwell forever.

“Further up,” C. S. Lewis cried out in The Last Battle, “and further in!”  I hope he gets to lead us up the mountain one day, for I will gladly (truly, unabashedly glad for perhaps the very first time in my immortal existence) follow.

And the Present will sleep contently at the foot of its King, hunger sated.

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Law: A More Excellent Way

If civil law is simply a social contract, then it rests on a foundation no firmer than desire. If ethics spring forth from the human heart, what then of the higher things – or indeed, how do we recognize the higher as distinct from the base? For my desire to steal I merely enshrine in law, and it becomes ethical: a virtue. I posit that some people are not really people; killing them is no different than butchering a hog. Again, I look in the mirror and see an ethical man, for my desire – become law – tells me what it means to be good. But what, then, of honor? What of duty? What of self-sacrificing love? What place have these things?

No, my friends. We must categorically reject the thinking of this age. There is transcendent truth, and it is real. We recognize love, and honor, and duty. When their stories are told, our spirits soar. We rejoice. And we cannot resist them, for indeed, desire does not define virtue. Virtue is written on the human heart, by One far greater than us. We can seek to understand this. We can embark on the greatest journey of our lives. The alternative is to be caught up by our own desires, slaves to their fickle whims, never satisfied, endlessly manipulating each other. There is no heavier burden for men to bear than that of their own desire.

Yet take heart, for all is not lost. There is a glorious, transcendent, and firm foundation upon which to build. And it is never too late to place upon it the first stone of a more excellent way.

Shadow-born

It has been some time since my last post, but I have been working on a new poem I thought I’d share. Perhaps enjoy is the wrong word, but, you know, read. And ponder.

Shadow-born, in darkness we,
Who labor all ‘neath dying star,
And long for peace amidst long war,
For green amidst long greying scars.

Sorrow-born, in mourning we,
Who trudge with ever-slowing step,
As languid days grind bones to dust,
We move from dream to want to must.

Sightless-born, and fools we,
To ever seek and never find,
To build the tow’r, to touch the sky
And never truly wonder why.

-Charles Baldon, May 2015

of iron men and seeds in stone hearts

To know a culture, look to the stories it loves, the art it produces, the music that moves it. The wealthier the culture, the more difficult this becomes, because wealth brings with it options: culture becomes more variable as we have a greater ability to choose which forces press upon us and shape our lives.

More difficult, I said, but not impossible. As an observer, I’ve been intrigued with our reaction to the current story arc of the various Avengers movies. We are hell-bent (in a very real sense) on being Tony Stark, bad boy. We want the money, we want the power, we want options. We seek to cast off all restraint… and in so doing, have chosen leaders for ourselves who restrain us in ways our forefathers would never have dreamed of, but the inevitable tyranny of excess is a post for another time.

the_avengers-wideNo, the interesting thing I’ve noticed is while we strive – with our dollars, our votes, our time – for less and less restraint, for more of what we want in the very instant that we want it, we still recognize that the heroic moment of the film franchise is the moment when Tony Stark, as Ironman, is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the world. He understands that taking the nuclear warhead into space will likely lead to his death…

but it’s the right thing to do, and he does it.

So many questions! This moment resonates with us. We recognize his maturity. We recognize his character has grown: dare we say we recognize that he is a better man than he was? All of the sudden we find ourselves using moral language, with all its implications. Maybe we don’t really think it through, and we merely treat it as entertainment. So then, what makes it popular? What makes it resonate in the way that it does?

Let me suggest something for your consideration. Though we strive with every fiber of our well-financed American beings to define our own lives, to write our own stories… we can’t.

The Great Story has been written, is being written and will be written, all at the same time, all within the glorious paradox that is the Gospel. I suggest that we know, deep in the core of our hearts, what a good story is. We are in one, with all of its shadows and light.

We recognize sacrifice.
We recognize honor.
We recognize selflessness.

In this late stage in the long defeat of the West, we seem to have given up on deep cultural consideration of virtue and its Source. But we cannot help but recognize it in our stories. We cannot help but to respond.

I’ll be thinking out loud further of how Christians can use this truth, buried as it is within our culture, to the glory of God and the advancement of his Kingdom in some future posts. It is long past the time when Christians should reassert the sovereignty of God over every form of art: cinema, photography, painting, sculpture, poetry, literature. They are His. They have never stopped being His. I would further posit that far from settling for a small sub-set of art we label “Christian” (I’m not sure who, exactly, grants this title, but it seems to happen and be very important to some of us), our goal should be to reclaim all of it.

The chief end of man truly is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I will not suggest for a moment that Tony Stark was seeking to glorify God in the climactic scene of the Avengers film. But I would ask you to consider the idea that Mr. Stark was emulating those qualities which spring forth from the very heart of God, those qualities that we who have been called into His service seek to emulate in our own lives in grateful obedience to His commands. And the culture – our culture – saw this, and called it good.

And that, my friends, is a wonderful place to start.

Kingdom Building

Christian ethics is no less than the human expression, made possible through the Holy Spirit, of the Divine character.  The foundation of our obedience to the will of God is the atoning death of Christ at Calvary.   The only proper and grateful response to what He has done for us is dedicating our lives to that which brings Him glory: this is our highest ethic.

A person outside of God’s saving grace has some inkling of God’s righteous justice.  Or rather something more than an inkling, as Paul lays out in the very beginning of his letter to the Romans: that person knows, and rejects the truth he knows for the lies his or her sinful heart prefers.  This is a harsh judgment to make, but a critical, Biblical one: and we must make it upon our own hearts first and foremost.  We all begin under a just sentence of condemnation for our rebellion.  In our flesh, we do not want to obey.  We don’t even want to acknowledge the existence of a law by which we can be judged disobedient.

But in His grace!  A glorious place to reside, and from this glory comes ethical order.  Our souls having been quickened by the Spirit, having responded to the Gospel of grace with joyful, repentant sorrow, are ready for something more: the work of building Christ’s kingdom, in His name, and upon His earth.  The truth of justice has devastated our souls, and truth of grace has built them back up again in His image.  Truth – we elate! – is knowable.  Both God’s justice in judgment and gracious salvation of sinners express His character; and having been justified, in the process of being sanctified, we begin to glimpse the beauty of His law as David did.  To know God is to know truth.  To love God is to love truth.

We live in an age where, without a trace of irony, the only truth we seem to embrace is that there is no truth.  In our culture we base ethics upon desire; that which the people want, the people should have.  This has the ultimate effect of destroying us.  It is shifting sand, and trying to build an ordered society upon a foundation readily susceptible to the tides of human opinion leads to moments of success followed by lifetimes of regret.

But building a well-ordered society that truly meets human need is possible: and more than possible, inevitable.   The ultimate triumph of good over evil is coming. And we, my Christian brothers and sisters, have been called to prepare the earth.  For all will bend the knee to Him.  His sovereignty is universal and will be recognized as such by all men, everywhere.  In justice or in grace, all will give Him glory.

What is your role in building His kingdom?