Obedience and Cataclysm

Obedience and Cataclysm May 28, 2017


Seems Facebook and YouTube took down the latest undercover videos of planned parenthood. Read somewhere that it was because of a court order, although it’s hard to believe it’s not just to keep the horror entirely away from the public eye. These little videos have become a regular part of the social media landscape just like all the other violence. Depending on the day, there are always a hundred of different kinds of brutality to be upset about. This week there were several terrorist violences–not just in the west, but of Coptic Christians in Egypt and other places. And the stabbing in Oregon. And a hate crime on some university campus. And, of course, the continual dismembering of babies, the ripping them limb from limb.

It’s quite a lot, especially if you stop to consider all the violence that didn’t make it into the headlines. Or the smaller injustices that do make it into your feed, but that you quickly scroll past looking for a cat video. Indeed, that was the totality of all my social media life this week–fluffy animals and people dying.

In all the messiness of the human psyche, there seems an immoderate pendulum swing between the deep desire for something big–big news, big action, catastrophic events, seismic cultural shifts, larger than life solutions to problems, huge personalities–and the desire to stay home and do nothing, the Netflix and chill option. We desperately want to go big or go home, but often that means that we just go home.

And surely this is reflected in social media where the outrage of appalling news is jumbled right up against a gram cracker and cool whip dessert and an adorable grouping of puppies eating their dinner in a merry-go-round motif. Each manner of posting, whether serious or light, is flattened together with all the others, one given as much space and time as another. It’s all the same. It’s the only way to balance between catastrophe and ordinary life. You can’t live in outrage all the time, and so you don’t.

Whereas, I think it was, in other more sane times, possible to balance the deep rooted desire for something grand and cataclysmic against the boring order of regular life, but only because the small had some kind of fitting value. Showing up to do the mundane and difficult work of being an unknown but faithful person, working in obscurity to no acclaim or praise, the long obedience in the same direction, the dignity of difficult and unpleasant work–this is a balance against the quick outrage driven solution that the human person craves. But it is only useful if it is given in the mind of the individual, and certainly in the community as a whole, it’s proper weight.

Take, by way of example, the impossible length of the Old Testament. Certainly there were cataclysmic events in the life of Israel, but they were not nearly as common as we like to think, as we toil day by day through the text. Sure, the Assyrians did come and carry the north away into captivity. But before that were hundreds and hundreds of years of small unobtrusive rebellions–the long disobedience in every direction. Ordinary people got up, choked down their morning gruel, saddled up the donkey to go to the field and plant some sorghum (or whatever), defraud the poor, pervert justice, and then toddle home again at night, stopping on the way to pray before an Ashera pole. No big deal. So the book of the law was shoved into a cupboard in the temple to gather dust. Nothing bad had happened for so long, why would it happen now?

The ordinary quiet day to day trials weigh a great deal. Obedience in the very smallest and unknown moments get added together, gain heft and weight over time. They aren’t lost into the cosmos, unknown and without meaning.

If every drop of blood shed without cause is known and accounted for by God–and it is–surely every small endured injustice, every painful forgiveness, every decision to die, every selfless word and deed is known also. God doesn’t forget or lose anything, not one single baby cell, nor your hastily thrown up prayer for help about any of the awful sins besetting humanity.

You don’t need to go big or go home. You can go home, not to Netflix and giving up because you can’t do anything grand enough to make a difference, but to pray, to wash the dishes, to sweep the floor, to go back out and make eye contact with someone in the grocery line. The very small, the unimportant, if it is taken seriously, is ultimately at least as powerful as any great big earth shattering solution–weighty because God sees it.

For every disobedience of Israel, every tossed away perversion of justice and truth, every inconsideration for the life of another, Jesus’ long, perfect, painful obedience overcame the accumulated weight of all that evil. He didn’t go to war. He didn’t start a program. He didn’t start a twitter campaign. He was obedient, even to death. He prayed in secret to the Father, the one who sees and knows everything. Fixing the difficulties and trials of your small unknown life to his death and to the power of his resurrection is the most cataclysmic thing you can do. Because when you do, the broken, shattered body is made whole.

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