I dusted off my copy of Dallas Willard‘s The Divine Conspiracy, and have started reading the book once more. He writes about the hidden life in God, a life of meaning open to everyone – a way that seems closed to many:
“The major problem with the invitation now is precisely over-familiarity. Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity, and then contempt. People think they have heard the invitation. They think they have accepted it – or rejected it. But they have not. The difficulty today is to hear it at all” (11).
The world, Willard explains, is filled with people who are “flying upside down” but don’t know it since there is a near complete disconnect between intellect and moral and spiritual realities (5). Willard demonstrates how abstractions and philosophical ideas still do have consequences in an anecdote about a young student named Pol Pot studying at a French university: “The killing fields of Cambodia come from the philosophical discussions in Paris” (7).
I spoke with my brother Daniel only yesterday. In Thailand at the tail-end of sweeping trip through South East Asia, he recently visited Cambodia and gave me a haunting report of the evil regime which meant to restart civilization. Pol Pot and his lackeys successfully created a peasant state, nearly wiping out most all the educated class. His efforts to restructure all of Cambodian society left nearly 2.5 million people dead and wiped out over 20% of the whole population. This was in the mid 70s, and forty years later the country still reels. The total dehumanization of the populace still seen in the vacant expressions on the faces of countless children who grow up in poverty, perpetually begging, so many trafficked and misused.
Elitist art and mass media stripped of old values and ruled by slogans like “be cute or die”(10) comment on a reality that can only be summarized as absurdity, with some faint belief in progress. And yet – amazingly or not – Christ still stands as a towering figure in the scrap heap of ideas and bizarre record of humanity. He has proven ability to “speak to, to heal and empower the individual human condition” (13). Christ comes a-knocking, but does not force himself in.
“Our human life, it turns out, is not destroyed by God’s life but is fulfilled in it and in it alone” (14).
If you’ve been following my recent postings at all, then you know I’ve been reading Andrew Murray’s book on Prayer. A question I’ve started to ask of myself and the Church is, “What kind of prayers do we pray?” Is it always for us, for self? Murray highlights that the point and power of prayer is in the selfless request for someone else. Rooted in the request is the selfless hunt and longing for God’s glory – for his worthiness to be made known and reflected through answered prayer. And so I was struck, as if across the mouth today, when I read the following words from his meditation on Obedience: The Path to Power in Prayer: “Service and obedience must become the chief objects of our desires and aims, even more so than rest, light, joy, or strength. In them we will find the path to all the higher blessedness that awaits us” (171).
Imagine that. Upping the ante again.
Christ and his way is always counter-cultural, opposite to the kingdom of the world. To fly right-side up so we can have our eyes on the horizon, we must move against the norm of self-seeking egotism that trades cleverness and absurdity for meaning and significance. Being selfless is not tantamount to being self-punishing or unsatisfied. In fact Willard announces that as humans we are “built to count…. in ways no one else does. That is our destiny” (15).
What a mystery that God has arranged things so that we can only be truly fulfilled when we are self-giving; blessed, as Murray states, when we obey and look to the needs of others.
And what needs there are, staring us in the face! Cambodia is one example with myriad needs. Spin the globe on your bookshelf and drop your finger on the map at random. You don’t have to look very far, although we’re getting pretty good at closing our eyes. Part of me starts to get defensive to these kind of statements, because I expect some form of accusation will be hurled at me from some time and space. That I’m not doing enough. My sight is too limited. My interests too broad. My interests are too narrow or specific. And yet before I run to the panic room and lock myself into an internal state of self protection, I’m liberated and freed up by reflecting on the life of Christ.
Jesus was one man, limited in his reach and even in his appeal. He didn’t head to the big city right from the get-go to connect with the masses and instantly change the world; he went to the far outposts of the Palestine of his day. “His speaking in synagogues in turn provided for the broadest possible penetration into the social fabric of his people, for the synagogues were central to his community” (Willard, 16). And from here his message spread, his fame grew, change too.
Some people found meaning in what he had to say and were drawn to how he lived; they either turned away or shamelessly adored him (19). If anything, the life and ministry model of Christ, is attractive at least in the simplicity of how it was expressed and the response that it demanded. Take it or leave it. You don’t say!
The hidden life with God is no secret. It’s power is not easily measurable. And it certainly is the road less traveled. It forthrightly declares a connection between character and internal thought, and does not separate the intellect from moral or spiritual reality. Part of its appeal in an upside-down world is that all these things engage and are at play.
The hidden life with God is the great secret we should no longer conceal, the mystery we should buff and shine with the fabric of our daily lives. It’s how we will fly right-side-up when the world is upside down.
- Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer. Whitaker House, 1981
- Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy. HarperSanFransisco, 1998.