Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Believing in Magic

The magic is gone. I feel like there isn’t magic in the world anymore. Like I know all the tricks, so now I see the wires and what’s up the magician’s sleeve. It’s like in the movie Boyhood, when young Mason realizes there aren’t really elves and fairies in the world. His dad’s attempt to soften the blow by talking about how magical a blue whale is doesn’t really comfort the disillusioned boy. So it is that the “magic” of reality doesn’t often impress me either. It’s worse than just losing the magic, which I suppose happened a long time ago. I’ve lost my wonder too.

At some point I put my head down and never looked up again. I notice the beauty of things, of nature. I’m moved by people’s stories and lives. But the magic, the sense of wonder, the mystery of hidden things and the invisible power of heaven breaking into earth, the limitless possibilities of the unknown—these have drifted off like a dream that seemed so vivid yet can’t be recalled upon waking. I need a miracle.

I worked so hard to grow up, to mature in my faith. I told myself (and preached to others) that a mature disciple doesn’t need signs and wonders, that that’s what faith entails—carrying on in the absence of such things. And I’m sure there’s important truth in that. But somewhere along the way I became some form of Deist, a naturalist and materialist whose God is very near but is content to work through nature taking its course. Maybe this is all correct and I just have to accept growing up.

Or maybe to hell with that. Maybe I need to grow young. Maybe, as Chesterton said, “we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” Maybe I need to chase the magic and regain the wonder. Maybe it isn’t God who stopped being interesting—maybe it’s me (not maybe). Maybe it’s better to spend a life believing in magic that might not be real, wondering at mystery that possibly isn’t so mysterious, than to settle into the boredom of a small, figured-out existence. And maybe the magic is more real and the mystery more wonderful than I’d ever imagined. That’s the chance I’m going to take.

"All things are full of wonder. But we never think to wonder at them because we have, by habit, become dull to the consideration of them."  
-Gregory the Great, 6th c.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Promises God Keeps

“…Abraham grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).

While inspiring our faith, this passage also exposes a couple of issues at the heart of our doubts and struggles. The first is somewhat obvious: We are not convinced God is able to do what God has promised. But the second issue is subtler: We don’t know what it is God has promised. It’s hard to believe God—or anyone—keeps his promises when we don’t know what the promises are.

In Abraham’s case it was Sarah’s miraculous conception and the birth of Isaac, the “son of promise.” Abraham believed this promise of God through years of waiting and serious doubting, and despite the odds and circumstances. But much larger even than Isaac, God’s promise was the covenantal relationship. Abraham had to believe God’s promise to be God—to be his God and the God of those he loved, from generation to generation.

I don’t know how much or often God makes specific promises to us on the order of miraculous conceptions. Rarely, I suppose. He does promise in Jesus to care for us and to provide for our needs. And we see this in the natural world (why must it be considered any less miraculous?) as, every moment, babies are conceived and bread comes forth from the earth and water is transformed into the fruit of the vine. But the daily miracle of our existence in Christ is God’s promise to be “with you always.” And he seals that promise—through death, resurrection, and ascension—with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is the angle from which we are to approach all those more specific promises we hope will come to pass.

The life we are living, with its choices and hopes and disappointments and dreams-come-true, is a daily fulfillment of God’s promise to be with us, to be our God and the God of those we love, from generation to generation. This is the faith in which we are to grow strong, to give glory, and to live fully convinced that God is able to keep his most important promise—that he will always be with us and be our God. We apply that promise to the “lesser” promises we hope for. What does it mean for God to be God over this particular need, for God to be with me in that particular situation? But the promise of God to be God is enough.

My Friend Thomas

I met Thomas when we ditched school together. We were 16, and my friend Scott and I had planned to skip out after homeroom and take Scott’s ...