August 29, 2007

Christ in all, and Christ alone.

Posted in The Church at 11:18 pm by Caleb Winn

All I Want Is You?

I have always had a problem with worship songs which proclaim absolute, exclusive, complete love and fervor and loyalty to God, and complete disregard for all else. We claim, through our worship, that we do not desire anything except to know God. And when I hear those words, I find it difficult to sing along, because they simply aren’t true. The Westminster Catechism states that “The Chief End Of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Is it wrong, then, to enjoy other things as well?

The God of Grace is the center of my life, and knowledge of Him is my greatest desire, but it is hardly my only desire. I desire friendship, fellowship, companionship. I desire food and shelter. I desire the beauty of nature and of art. These are not theological desires, nor do I really desire these things with any theological intention in mind. I don’t say “I want fellowship in order to be exhorted to Godliness and to more perfectly reflect the glory of almighty God!” I desire human love for its own sake, primarily. Does that mean that I am discontent with God’s love? Is it some sort of moral failure?

As I’ve pondered this question in my heart over the past few weeks and months, a few different ideas have floated around in my head. I will try to outline three different areas of analysis, and try to understand the nature of human worship of the divine in light of them.

Why Are We Here?

I think it is helpful to ask ourselves, for what purpose was man created? Understanding how God created us to function is the best way to understand how we ought to live our lives. In order to do this, I think that we need to examine the beginning and the end, to see how we are made, and towards what we are working.

We are made to be corporeal beings, by our very nature. We are not souls trapped inside bodies, nor are we a soulless bundle of chemical and biological processes. We are ensouled bodies, and corporeal souls, a dual existence intertwined and essentially inseparable.

We are made to work. We are made to live in a garden, tending the trees and caring for creation. Unlike the Angels who reside in the throne room crying Holy, Holy, Holy, man is made to live apart from the direct presence of the beatific vision. God certainly “walked with Adam in the cool of the day,” but the image of Eden is not one of an uninterrupted worship service. Eden is a place of activity and service, wherein we fulfill a role within creation.

We are made to love. God created Eve for Adam, because “it is not good for man to be alone.” Surely man was not “alone,” for God was there with him. But direct communion with God is not, it seems, the totality of human relational capacity. Our desire for companionship, for friends and for a lover, is God-given and appropriate. Though some may be called to a life of celibacy and monasticism (see 1 Corinthians 7), this is not the norm.

We are made to return to Eden. Though we often speak of “going to heaven,” the Bible speaks clearly of the resurrection of the body. Salvation provides restoration and glorification, but it is not clear that we will be essentially changed. The resurrection of
Jesus Christ enables us to also be resurrected, in Spirit now and progressively, and in body at the end of the age. But we shan’t be transformed into Angels. We shall remain as we essentially are: corporeal beings, living in a corporeal realm. The idea that we will spend eternity literally within an incorporeal heavenly realm, praising God, seems problematic to me. I find it far more likely that we shall be restored to what we were meant to be like, rather than that we shall be transformed into something wholly new.

In light of all of this, it seems appropriate to desire, and even enjoy, the “lesser goods” that come with corporeal existence. We are created to be corporeal, active, social beings, and we ought not deny that God-given nature.

A Beautiful Creator

As I consider specifically the beauty of the physical world, I’m reminded of the idea that The Heavens Declare The Glory of God. Does this mean that my experience of the heavens must always be quickly transformed into theological contemplation? Or is there something deeper going on here?

It is helpful for me to think of creation as an expression of God’s character, rather than as a random jumble of signs pointing back to Him. There is a purposefulness to creation, if we understand that it necessarily shows us who God is. This helps me to escape overanalyzing and rationalizing everything that I see.

This means that beauty of creation is not an academic construct, or an intellectual category that points to abstract ideals. It is a very real expression of a Very Real God, and experiencing beauty in my soul enables me to love God in my soul, even if I do not construct a theological argument in my mind every time I see a rainbow.

Indeed, constructing theological arguments can be counter-productive if it stands in the way of appreciating the real beauty, and standing in awe at God’s glorious creation. If we understand that creation is necessarily reflective of God, then falling in love with creation necessarily causes us to fall in love with God. Appreciating beauty means appreciating Beauty, and ultimately the author of Beauty.

Becky wrote an interesting post on the subject, if anybody is interested in reading her perspective. She expresses what I mean to say far better than I possibly can, so it is certainly worth the read.

What Is The Greatest Commandment?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this dilemma is the oddly exclusive of The Greatest Commandment, and the fact that it seems to be contradicted by the next commandment, which is “like the first.”

We are told that we ought to “Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Surely if my entire heart, soul, mind, and strength are committed to loving God, I have no more heart, soul, mind, and strength left for anybody else! If in fact God demands my exclusive adoration, there is no room for deviation. I cannot love God with all my heart, and also love my friend, can I?

But then the second commandment, which is tied inextricably to the first, urges the reader to “love your neighbor as yourself.” How is this possible? If I have truly committed all of myself to loving God, I have nothing left with which to love myself, let alone others! How can this commandment possibly make sense, in light of the first?

In fact, I would argue that it only makes sense in light of the first, and that the link between the two is key to understanding either. Like the concepts that they embody, the commandments themselves must always exist in conjunction with each other. The commandment to love others is a means of fulfilling the commandment to love God. It is through loving others as ourselves that we are able to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. For loving my neighbor is an ineffable expression of divine love and grace.

All I Want Is You!

The bottom line is that I am unable to see God perfectly, and He allows me lesser, intermediary goods through which I can see His glory reflected. I am created to enjoy these blessings, and in so doing to worship God.

So in the end, I’m left wondering if there is really a conflict at all. If I desire companionship, I am fulfilling the role for which I have been created. If I delight in beauty, I am really delighting in the creator who chooses to manifest Himself through this beautiful world. God is in the sunrise, and the sunset. Life isn’t about structured worship. It is about living as we were made to live, driven by love and grace under the sovereignty of a great and glorious God.

I can sing “All I Want Is You!” to God, then, and mean it. For when I want friendship, when I want to be diligent at my job, and when I want to sit and experience the beauty of a sun’s slow descent into the Pacific ocean after a long day of laughter and fellowship, these are all ways in which I want to worship God.

As with Adam tending his garden, as with Noah beneath the rainbow, as with Christ pouring Himself out lovingly for an ungrateful people, LORD, so let it be with me.


1 Comment »

  1. wifeinprogress said,

    Caleb (Laura here), this is such a wonderful post! I hadn’t been reading your blog and I’m so delighted with what I’ve found here.
    What you’ve said here is truly beautiful. I’ve struggled with some of the same things…learning where to fit all of my desires in life in relation to my ultimate purpose of loving and bringing glory to God.
    Thank you! I can’t wait to read more!

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