Friday, June 01, 2007

Balance - Again

I think I might finally be grasping the tenuous balance between two important principles in life. The two can each be summed up, I suppose, in biblical phrases, namely: "All things are yours" and "All men are like grass." I've been focusing a lot on the former statement the past couple months, which is probably good because I seem to have focused on the latter for a major portion of my life. But it's been a big reversal for me to start understanding, as I see it, the phrase that Paul uses, when he says, "having nothing, but possessing everything." It was a breakthrough, I think, for me to realize that all things are indeed mine and that nothing is out of my grasp, whether I am rich or poor, young or old, etc. It is really revolutionary to me and very freeing. I grew up thinking that we should avoid material things, that if we wish to be free of the grasp of materialism, then we really need to do without. I think today's American poor disprove that idea. It is different in most of the rest of the world, but in the United States, I find that poor people are as materialistic as they come. It seems strange, but the fact is that they're surrounded by material goods/advertisements/influences, and most of it they can't have. But in their hearts they are shackled to those wants. So apparently, the secret to escaping materialism is not in becoming poor. But I've finally started thinking, what if we instead start believing the words of Jesus and the apostles, saying that we have all things. Not just that our basic needs are met, but "ask anything in my name, and you will receive it."

When I bring up those verses, I can't help but clench my stomach a little. Images of faith healers and "name it, claim it" television theologians assault my mind and I instinctually recoil. But I think the promise of those particular forms of interpretation is: start believing this way and then you'll be able to get what you want. Whereas, what I'm looking for is not self-indulgence, but contentment. It's not about satiating your lusts and appetites, but it's about being content in all circumstances. And it goes right along with biblical principles. Paul says he knows the secret - whether he's living with wealth or in want, no matter what his circumstances, "I can do all things through Christ." In other words, "all things are [mine]."

So I've been starting to think this way, and in a moment of reflection, borne of turbulent emotion whose cause I cannot in any way pinpoint - let's just say I was having an off day and had to go be alone to think and talk to God - I came to understand the balance a little better in the latter statement I mentioned: "All men are like grass." It's from a passage in Isaiah, "All men are like grass and their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of the Lord stands forever." It's a humbling thought, to imagine us all as mere blades of grass, flourishing green and tall one day, dry and withering the next. To imagine the whole world as just a field, filled with so many twigs. All the things that we think are important suddenly become nonentities, inconsequential. Our very existence becomes small and maybe a little trite. I really don't want to belittle or degrade the human experience, but when I think about it, I have to admit that we really are pretentious little creatures - thinking our cash flow and our stock options make a lick of difference in the world, or that putting up with traffic and dealing with all our problems are so incredibly important as to merit the world's attention. Even our real problems, death and sickness, deep pains and sorrows, they begin to pale in the light of the fashioning of the universe and the expance of all of creation. As I think of it, I actually begin to remember the end of the book of Job, when God finally talks and reminds Job just how much more there really is than his little experience of life.

Anyway, all this is to say that there needs to be a balance. On the one hand, we really are nothing, just a breath of air in the scope of eternity. On the other, the entire universe is ours, and all we want or need is provided for us - ie. we can do all things. A difficult balance to find, perhaps a bit paradoxical, too. But necessary and, the more I begin to practice it, fulfilling.

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