Here’s my Christmas post for this year.
When playing a musical instrument in an orchestra, it is not uncommon that the director give you and your fellow musicians one piece of criticism and follow it immediately with a critique that seems directly opposite. He might, for example, say that he wants the trumpets to play louder, and the very next moment, he’ll be upset with them for overpowering the strings. In these sorts of situations, it is understood by good ensemble musicians that the director is in the right, and it is almost implied that the trumpets have done something very insensitive even though they were just trying to follow his orders. What he really wants is not for one particular section to mindlessly play louder or softer throughout the whole piece, but for all the players to balance and blend, which is something much more complicated than a single adjustment in volume. Instead, good balance requires sensitive musicianship and a profound understanding of the nuances of the piece.
While he is trying to communicate this delicate concept, an orchestra director also has to be mindful of accessibility. He is usually dealing with an overwhelming sum of people, all of whom come from different backgrounds and have different philosophies of music. So he is compelled to use the simplest language possible in order to effectively communicate what he wants the group to do. This is what makes him seem to suffer from multiple personality disorder at times–his task is very difficult. Indeed, if one is to attempt to explain musicianship to a large group of people in concrete, layman’s terms, he is almost doomed to come very near to contradicting himself. This is not because the art is incoherent, but because it is complicated.
Now suppose someone were to try to explain the meaning of life to the entire world in a way that would serve as its model for ages to come. Imagine, if you will, that within a single culture, the very structure of reality was to be explained for all peoples. I don’t suppose there is a more arduous endeavour that could be dreamt of by the human mind. And yet, this is the very undertaking that we find being fulfilled in God’s Holy Word. God Himself is explained to us in simple, universal terms. An infinite fractal of the highest order of infinity is embodied in mere words.
It is no surprise, of course, that we find this text to be very much like the frustrating orchestra conductor. One part tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves, another part tells us to not throw our pearls to the dogs. In one part, we see the Israelites stoning adulteresses by order of God himself, and in another part, we see Jesus turning the crowd away from such a convict because they themselves are sinners. For some, this abundance of scriptural inconsistencies can be almost detrimental to the rhetoric of the text. But as for myself, I find that these seemingly conflicting imperatives make the sacred book all the more powerful and all the more effective. Life is complicated, and Reality is fractal. It is utterly unthinkable that a model of Reality could be single dimensional. As we have discussed elsewhere in this blog, the Omnipotent has a number of necessary qualities: He must be Good because He is categorical, He must be Rational because reason cannot exist by irrational cause, He must be Just because He is Good and Rational, and He must be Loving because He is coherent with His own creation. However, these qualities present a paradox. How could God be infinitely Loving and infinitely Just?
The answer is Redemption. Redemption is a logical necessity to any explanation of Reality, and even people who do not understand the formal proof seem to know this intuitively. No other religion in the wold besides Christianity has Redemption in it, and yet followers of all religions and anti-religions cannot escape the notion. They try to sneak it into their doctrines, searching endlessly for a tiny foothold amongst their tightly packed creeds in which they might slide something to fulfil their need for this belief. However, when the ungrounded rhetoric subsides, it becomes evident that only in Christianity may one find a God of Grace, which is the very thing for which the world so desperately craves.
But how could a single text explain Redemption, this absurd reconciliation of Justice and Love, to the every human being that would ever live? Well, God does it with a great rebellion. For ages, He set aside the Israelites as His chosen people, instilling in them a strict system of morals. He had them kill anyone caught violating one of His rules. This is how seriously He takes morality. However, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. Soon men and women would not use this rule system as a means to please God, but as a tool to persecute each other and bring themselves power. So God had to tear down His own temple, and make a mockery of the very system He had instilled (see “The Mockery”).
That’s exactly what He does in the person of Christ. The powerful Pharisees sat like tyrannical dictators on thrones of self-righteousness, looking down in scorn at the common mass below. They believed that they were the favoured of God. They knew His law better than anyone and followed it to the very letter. But they had entirely missed the point just as the trumpets did when the orchestra director told them to play louder. God didn’t want robots that simply obeyed rules anymore than the director did. He wanted human beings with hearts that were filled with His spirit. So just as the director spurns his players for blindly following orders, so does God his people. He gave Himself to the world not as a Pharisee of Pharisees, but as a lowly servant–a servant that would overturn all the rules. He would spit in the ground on the sabbath to heal a blind man, spend his time with unworthy sinners, speak to a Samaritan women at a well, turn over tables in the house of worship, touch a leper, forgive sins, and have the temple curtain torn in half. When God became man, He undermined His whole hierarchy. Suddenly, religion wasn’t just for the circumcised Pharisees who sat around contemplating rules, it was for all people. Jesus was for the dirty prostitutes on the streets–the sinners that had lost all hope of heaven long ago. He overthrew their sin and overcame the world.
This is how God told us about Grace in a language that all of humanity can understand. Grace could never have existed without both Justice and Love, because Justice is the very faculty upon which Grace acts, and love the means by which it does so.