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Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

Partaking of the Sufferings (part three)

Receiving faith through hearing Christ, the Word of God, was the life-changing event for Fox, and so it is for everyone who follows the same excruciating path of partaking of sufferings.

Receiving faith ends the old, worldly order of misery as well as the moral evil that arises from humanity's determination to muffle and quell the fear of weakness and self-diminishment, the fear of death.

Emil Brunner in The Christian Doctrine of Church, Faith, and the Consummation outlines the inevitable progression from fear of death to wickedness:

 

Between death and moral evil there is from the standpoint of experience a scarcely comprehensible, but none the less real, relation. Moral evil, in so far as it is not pure defiance but also weakness, is rooted in anxiety, and this anxiety is in the last resort always the fear of death. All insatiable hunger for power, all the cruelty of tyrants, all the timidity of the narrow-minded--what are they but     attempts to find security from an unknown threat? Our wickedness--human wickedness--is not so much...a defiant "no" to the Creator's will as the expression of a latent panic in the face of coming death. Fear of death is the secret cause of moral evil, as death itself is moral evil's manifest result: "the wages of sin" (437).

 

Glancing backward to the Roman revelers, we see the crowd pressing each person into keeping a vigilant eye focused outward: One's stealthy neighbor might put out one's flame! How humiliating and diminishing that would be! Like a symbolic death! Better to put out another's flame first! thinks each anxiety-filled reveler.

What abundant conflict is entailed in this routine aggressive/defensive behavior! And what diversion! The conflict--playful here but serious in society, and deadly serious among ethnically diverse societies--keeps people busy and avoiding the hard work of looking within, and each seeing himself as he is. One might occupy oneself indefinitely brandishing and thwarting power for term of life! One might never move beyond this state of sin in which fear of death, and thus death itself has its reign.

If in place of the lit candle of Roman Moccoletti, we substitute rights, property, status, influence, opportunity, dignity, or physical life itself, the senseless conflict in the world arising from fraud, abuse, violence, and war is seen for what it fundamentally is: an outward distraction that enables and promotes the refusal to suffer honest self-scrutiny that is, in truth, the obligation of each human being to undergo. For it is undergoing self-scrutiny that a person prepares himself to receive God's gift of grace and life.

Fearful defense of  natural assets is just as surely an outward diversion as is the aggressive acquiring of them; therefore are we told: "If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well" (Mt. 5:40). All the aggression and defensiveness  denies and masks the naked truth that we each in our human nature are not complete, not whole, not absolute, not total, not immortal. Shameful as that feels, we need to partake of that knowledge: the revealing of the self that does not know God, and instead lawlessly attempts to usurp His place by claiming our natural being is whole, absolute, independent, autonomous, and in charge.

The problem for the person of sin is a lawless, false self-projection arising from a terror of truth that can be revealed at any moment. In the day of visitation, however, all is revealed:    

           

for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God (2 Thess. 2: 3b-4).

 

Though it's not always Carnival season in the mid-1800s, the carnal mind sets itself in the aggressive/defensive posture that is found in the Carnival game, often without an awareness of having done so. For example, many Quakers presume their calling to be working to eliminate social ills that beleaguer our world, and accordingly have focused their attention outward to extend or defend contemporary Quaker values that are referred to as the testimonies. A rationale of improving social conditions through championing causes provides ample assignment to occupy time and consciousness, and substitutes human aspiration to virtue over knowledge of and hearing/obeying response to God.

Neither entertaining diversion nor a focus on social justice work honors or manifests the faith found by Fox and other early Quakers who braved examining their souls in the light of the standard of truth, the divine law. Instead, people refuse to endure the inward scrutiny that reveals the failure of usurped autonomy. Again from The Christian Doctrine of Church, Faith, and the Consummation, Brunner shows the correlation of this false claim to independence and a life given over to death:

 

When man as a sinner denies his dependence on God and turns it into independence, he is severed from God, the original source of all life; his guilt stands between the living God and himself as he actually is. Thus the creature destroys the root of its own life, its fellowship with God. But man is unable utterly to destroy the relation to God which was established by God the Creator. He remains bound to God, but now instead of living in the love of God, he is under God's wrath....The shadow of judgment lies upon his whole life and makes it a life in darkness, in exile. This life in its totality is in fact a "being unto death."

William Stringfellow in his An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land identifies all nations, all institutions as embodying a demonic idolatry of death. He argues that a fear and worship of death is the attempt to furnish meaning but results in social chaos in many forms: racism, ecological corruption, misogyny, conformity, violence, etc. This situation can't be eradicated, he claims, but he does offer guidance on how to live humanly in the midst of it: resistance to the power of death and a "biblical style of life." The following excerpt from Stringfellow on resisting the power of death would certainly have been agreed to by Fox:

 

In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst babel, I repeat, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word. And more than that, in the Word of God, expose death and all death's works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out   demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.

 

It is through a humble willingness to endure the truth of ourselves, even unto the brokenness that is typified by death on the Cross, that we become prepared. This partaking of the sufferings, we discover, is followed by the Lord's coming to dwell with us, a resurrection to unforeseen, abundant life. No longer do we depend on the powers of nature to vivify and secure ourselves; no longer do we fear the loss of our natural powers, for, as the prophet Isaiah proclaims, the Lord shall be our everlasting light, and the days of mourning shall be ended.

 

            The sun shall no longer be your light by day,

            nor the moon shine on you when evening falls;

                        the Lord shall be your everlasting light,

                        your God shall be your glory.

            Never again shall your sun set

                        nor your moon withdraw her light;

                        but the Lord shall be your everlasting light

                        and the days of your mourning shall be ended. (Isa. 60:19-20)

 

Views: 154

Comment by Ellis Hein on 8thMo. 24, 2016 at 13:07
Thanks for putting up this series of posts. I liked it when you made your presentation at the 2016 gathering and it helps to see it in print. I am particularly struck by Brunner's two quotes you provide in part three. He has "hit the bullseye" in his linking fear to wickedness. I am reminded of Isaiah 54:13 and following: "And all your sons will be taught by the Lord and none shall make them afraid." (my paraphrase from memory). If none can make us afraid because we are being taught by the Lord, then none can induce us to evil. If I am being actuated by fear or panic, then coming to the light that reveals all my condition will seem like an unendurable fire that I must avoid at all cost. Truly only the hunger and thirst after righteousness, the insatiable hunger that won't be satisfied by anything else, enables one to face the terror of seeing ourselves as we are without God. In that sight, we can then see the love of God who does not leave us in our condition but shows us our condition that He may raise us out of it and give us righteousness to eat and drink.
Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 8thMo. 24, 2016 at 18:51

Thanks for your good comment, Ellis. Here's a little more on the Isa. 54:13 verse: In the KJV, it reads: "And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children." Interesting to me are the different translations: KJV's, "great shall be the peace," and the version of your recollection, "none shall make them afraid." The words "peace" and "not being afraid" point to the contrast between the calm assurance that is in knowing God and, by contrast, the agitation that accompanies fear. Having come into the knowledge of God some decades ago, I no longer think that the light threatens me with an "unendurable fire that I must avoid at all cost." Rather the danger for me is that fear's agitation has inertia, and I must consciously recognize it and put a stop to the temptation to ride that energy, which falsely promises to aid me in whatever crisis I'm undergoing or imagining. So, I've learned to quiet myself, be patient, and wait upon the Lord when I feel the rush of fear.

One other point about the Isa. 54 verse. In my KJV version, there's a symbol next to the verse that indicates it's a Messianic prophecy. Additionally, alongside is a reference to Isa. 11:9: "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." Each verse refers to consciousness of the LORD: knowledge in 11:9 and "taught by the Lord" in 54:13, which affirms in both verses the messianic promise is knowledge of Christ within, teaching his people himself. 

Comment by Ellis Hein on 8thMo. 25, 2016 at 13:19
Some further comments on that passage in Isaiah: Chapter 54 continues on from verse 13 to the end describing the outcome of being taught by the Lord. It finally dawned on me that chapter 55 is a continuation. 54:13 to the end describes the condition of those taught by the Lord, 55 asks "are you hungry for this? Come, buy, eat. Listen that you may live. Delight yourself in abundance of listening that you may experience abundance of living. And I will make covenant with you.
I find that portion of Isaiah to be exceedingly rich.

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