Friday, March 19, 2010

My Fear of Being Happy

The following is an excerpt from a soon to be published TSM theological essay, "The Proper Acceptance of Assurance." I have not had time to proof, so forgive any grammatical mistakes. -TM

There is a particular professor at the seminary I attend whose disposition and approach to faith I have found a bit perplexing. This is not a commentary on the quality of his faith, only his manner of thinking, which is neither inherently good nor bad, but fits his quirkiness well and, for that reason, is very good (in the highest sense of the word). I am not sure why I bring this up other than to introduce my story. While some of his statements cause me to lose total track of the conversation in order to dissect his thought, whether that be good or bad, I never find myself drifting away during his prayers. His prayers are such that they captivate all who listen, but not so that one is amazed by the teacher himself, but, rather, they are such prayers that one can meditate on them and talk to God about them all day.

Today’s prayer was no exception. Now, when I give you the gist of the prayer, you might not be blown away. However, if you could but hear them in their context, you might be amazed at the depth that flows forth. While I will not attempt to recreate the whole prayer, here is the main message: While we are so amazed at God’s creativity, his power, his intelligence, and so forth, what is even more so amazing is His goodness. We are foolish in that we do not understand such goodness. His goodness is so great-and here is the part that really shook me-that He would will our happiness forever.

I tell you that story, to tell you this. My reaction to the last statement-that God is so good that He would will our happiness forever-struck me in a profound and even disturbing way. It is not that I did not already know this, but for some reason, in that moment, the reality of God, as it sometimes does, became so real to me that I found myself frightened. In a real large sense, this fear was that healthy fear we often read of in the Old Testament; however, there was yet another side to this fear. Something in me, something dark within me, was frightened by this proposition. It was not merely fear of ending up on the wrong side of eternity, missing the boat, if you will. That is to say, I was not brought to fear because I was afraid of not obtaining this happy state of eternal bliss with God (which would suggest the alternative-damnation), and it was not that, in that moment, I feared my professor’s words to be empty so that what he spoke of did not exist. It was something much worse, for I believed precisely what he was saying.

Before I tell you what this feeling was, I must tell you why I offer this thought to you. As a (forming) minister, the last thing I personally want to do is show you my weakness, especially when it comes to the faith that I wish to present. I am called to be a shepherd, and I cannot afford my flock not feeling safe with my leadership. However, my flock must also know my sincerity. Thus, in order to honestly speak of my knowledge of the darkness that sin brings, I want to relate to my reader through showing the severity of the darkness sin sometimes brings me.

So, without any more delay, I will tell you what I fear about the statement: God wills our happiness forever. In short, I fear exactly that, that God would will my happiness forever. I fear the idea that I am going to exist forever, even if this forever is to be spent in utter happiness. I do not wish to analyze this fear in depth, and I do not wish for you to worry about it yourself. That is but a part of who I am, the old self. The old self wishes not to be ruled by God, but loves autonomy, to be master of its own reality, but this leads to death.

While I am a child of God, I am still tainted by sin, and that which sin infects is dead. Thus, the dead, false self fears its ultimate demise. It knows the power of God, and it knows that His ultimate will for my life is to strip my true self-the self hidden in Christ-of the dead self. All that the self loves for its own sake will perish, and this old self does not wish to be let go. The curse of death is so great that even that which is already dead fights against it in a futile effort of self-preservation. In light of God’s goodness, I let go more and more of the dead self, and when this happens it screams out in fear. I experienced my deadness today, and, praise Him, I think I experienced it because I was letting it go just a bit more in light of my professors prayer. So, I must say: Thank you Dr. Stone...