When God created the world, he did so out of nothing… not as though ‘nothing’ were a vacant zone, or a generic substance… but he ‘summoned it into being’.
And what he saw that he had created, was ‘good‘… self-evident I suppose, that a holy and good Divine Being should create only holy and good things.
And so was mankind… when he was created… ‘Adamah’… humanity, was also good and holy, walking with God. And all human life ‘chavvah’ -Eve… which God brought forth from humanity… was good, and humanity belonged with humanity, and humanity belonged with God.
So what went wrong? Was there something nasty lurking in the divine woodshed or a nasty substance that got in to spoil the goodness, or did God taunt the good creation by leaving a bottle of poison on Eden’s worktop and saying ‘now I’m just popping out for a bit, but whatever you do, don’t drink from that bottle’…? -No, of course not.
Having been given everything and created good, created in the image and likeness of God, what else could humanity choose… what MORE could humanity want? Well humanity didn’t choose something MORE… humanity was not the cool rebellious teenager who overstepped a boring creator’s artificially imposed boundaries, as wicked characters so often seem to be portrayed on screen. Humanity chose LESS.
From being created actually in the image of the living God, children of the Most High… humanity chose instead to step down, to go it alone and instead become ‘like‘ God… to lust after ‘likeness’ instead of living in truth… and how devastating to discover, upon stepping down and choosing ‘likeness’ that the very truth had been lost… stepping into a mirror world we now see through a glass darkly, where we had been created to see God face-to-face.
So what does that leave us with in this world? A world that is in no way ‘unreal’ although it is very often ‘untrue’… well thankfully, it does not leave us abandoned. God does not leave us abandoned, but he has come amongst the lies and shown us just how far from truth and how out of kilter this world is, in his incarnation -Christ.
And what’s more, he has shown us that, whilst we have to navigate our way through the lies, there is a hope for truth at the end, after we have surrendered our bodies to all the lies, even to death -there is resurrection, and truth, and knowledge, and once again there is a face-to-face walk with God, our loving creator. -We have to come to realise, and this is one that is still not popular in the modern Church, though the mystics and monastics have never really lost it… that all that this world appears to offer, is not worth clinging to for its own sake... but that we: humanity and the world humanity lives in must be surrendered back to God and transformed for what is true -and that is a walk with one another and with God in mutual love and humility.
So that’s pretty pro-active, it means really living in the here and now, a constant search for truth and an effort to accept humility, mercy and love… and because of the distortions of ourselves and of the world… it is more often than not, costly and painful. But there’s an upside… walking with God, and with one another in the mutual love to which we are called, which is our true form… is like breathing fresh air when you’ve lived in a city sewer all your life, or like walking at sea-level when you’ve struggled to breath on a mountain top… it is incomparably living… so much so that after a time, the flimsy alternative, the ‘LESS’ which the world tries to offer, fame, wealth, physical titillations and psychological distractions… they become less and less attractive, [in the way that a half-empty packet of cheesy Quavers might seem next to a hot home-cooked meal.] Discipleship really does become habit-forming, and it’s a good habit!
Discipleship can look like loss at first, to those who are mired deep in the ways of the world: to the media-whore, privacy seems unappealing (though we who possess privacy know how lovely it can be); to the chatterbox, listening lacks attraction (but how else can one really learn); to the solipsist, the idea of community may feel like the loss of self (but we are all blessed and formed by those people who surround us, and above all by those with whom we share a bond of love); to the glutton, it may appear like a strict diet; to the intellectual -the surrender of the faculties -but it is not, it is quite the opposite, it is wholesome food and life; and it is mind-opening wonder. Christian discipleship is truly the Way, the Truth and the Life.
… Of course we are still living in the world, and in the process of being transformed from broken to whole… from shadow to light… from ‘like’ gods… to true children of God. And so as we exercise our free will in this broken, topsy-turvy world… we truly ARE free but we are exercising our freedom in a broken world that croons to itself songs about its own greatness, a world that has elevated its own miserable shackles, to the status of glorious jewellry, in an attempt to pretend that ‘nothing’ is ‘something’ worth having…
This poem by Swinburne captures something of the illusion:
What is gold worth, say,
Worth for work or play,
Worth to keep or pay,
Hide or throw away,
Hope about or fear?
What is love worth, pray?
Worth a tear?
Golden on the mould,
Lie the dead leaves rolled
Of the wet woods old,
Yellow leaves and cold,
Woods without a dove;
Gold is worth but gold;
Love’s worth love.
But of course, we have lost a lot of the sense of what love really is, and we need to relearn it, better… we need to be taught and shown love, fully human love… and that by the only one who really knows -by God. By Christ, God in all the fullness of humanity, love incarnate for us. As to what the alternative is… the hypothetical ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ … the ‘unlove’ as Bulgakov terms it…
Well in fact that is nothing… it can be a scary nothing, partly because it threatens to take away from us ourselves as we are now… and partly because when we face the nothingness of sin, it is an abyss that seems all too familiar: a potentially endless void we could explore fruitlessly till death, but it really only is nothing…The effects of this nothing, this sin, on ourselves is very tangible, because it is often the annihilation of the other things that we have created for ourselves, it can lead us to despair and hopelessness, or it can lead us to more self-delusion, and the creation of alternative replacement lies that bolster-up our false worldview.
… But this ‘nothing’ is not the annihilation of anything that God has created, ‘nothing’ is not stronger than ‘something’… anymore than darkness is stronger than light… the light may feel surrounded by darkness, but the darkness cannot overcome the light, and nor does the darkness MAKE the light… the LIGHT shows up the darkness as being simply ‘nothing’.
So we are sinful… prone to choosing our own nothingness over God’s abundant life; we are living in sin… surrounded by the effects of ourselves and other people valuing that which is worthless… but we are not made for sin nor composed of sin… that would suggest, heretically and just generally absurdly there was a matter or substance in God’s created universe, which was ‘bad’… a thing from which evil could be formed or a power from which evil could draw energy but there isn’t.
But there’s an awful lot of ‘nothing’ mixed into our hearts and minds and strength, weakening and deforming the shape of God’s creation: whispers and lies, hints and murmurs, rumours and threats… but the living God will distill out the truth in the end…