Thursday, April 9, 2009

A stumbling block

For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken."

Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.
One of my favorite posts I’ve written came from reading one of my least favorite books I’ve ever read. After suffering through painful pages of Austen I pondered whether the stereotypical format of an Austen novel might follow the story of Grace: everything gets worse and worse throughout the whole story, finally climaxing with the Unspeakable Tragedy, which to everyone’s shock puts all the pieces together with remarkable speed and completeness. Grace trumps all. Evil gets consumed by reverse entropy, the force at work in the world that puts everything together. Death is swallowed up in Victory. It becomes part of the very gears of redemption.

But in the tragedies of this year, reverse entropy does not sound as comforting as it did when I first wrote the term. This spring marks the first time in my twenty-six years as a Christian that I have been scandalized by the message of the cross, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” I like the notion of everything getting consumed by the great snowball of Grace and Redemption, until I realize what is getting consumed in it. Evil becomes part of the wheels of redemption? Murder, rape, child abuse... these become instruments of good? It sounds victorious when it is an abstract idea; it sounds downright scandalous when it is a real-life situation. I don’t know if I like that kind of redemption.

Evil becomes part of the wheels of redemption? The Cross... it becomes an instrument of good? Humiliation, torture, the suffering of the innocent... are part of the gears of redemption? Until this spring, I never realized what a scandalous, offensive, shocking redemption that is.

A Catholic friend of mine enthusiastically told me the other day, “We ask for bread, and he gives us Eucharist.” Maybe it is a good thing we don’t know what we’re praying for sometimes. Who would ever pray for Daily Bread, not to mention the redemption of Jerusalem or of ourselves, if we knew at what cost it would come?

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