Friday, November 14, 2014

Wherein "difficulty" is really just how things are supposed to work

Why does God delight in difficulty, while man is so content to be at ease? It is tempting to examine the curse in Genesis three and imagine how supple and responsive Creation must have been to Adam's efforts before his Grand Rebellion, but there is no hint that the labor would have been easy for all of that perfection. Rather, the only indication seems to be that man's labor would not be fruitless (thorns and thistles choking to death) or debilitating (sweat of the brow implying painful exertion). 

I don't think that one could say Adam would not need to be daily wrapping together grapevines into some shapely order, or disentangling them with great care when they had grown waywardly in the night. I don't think that one could say little Cain and Abel wouldn't have required a great deal of patience as they learned from their parents the things that were new and at which they were unskilled. God Himself waited when Adam named each creature that He trotted before the man, all the while knowing that none of them would be adequately suited. God could have told Adam as much, and perhaps Adam would have taken God's word for it, but Adam's knowledge would have been far less intimate than it was as a result of the long process of investigation. God, who enjoys everything He does after some fashion, surely delighted in watching Adam learn, however slowly or rapidly Adam was able to draw his conclusions about each beast.

Indeed, as one reflects upon the tasks that seem most difficult--getting a child to learn, teaching a new skill to an unskilled worker, waiting for all of the aspect of a planned event to come together, gathering the scads of data that trickle in bit by bit by bit--they seem to be difficult not insomuch as they are fruitless or debilitating, but rather insofar as our capacity to enjoy the labor is deficient. The intemperance of wanting to get the expected result from the labor apart from the difficulties associated with the labor thwarts one's enjoyment of the labor itself--such intemperance is the thorn that chokes the life our of the growth God seeks to develop in us.

How did we get to be in this situation where false ideals persist about our labor: that results must be immediate, tangible, and fully formed at every stage of our efforts? Perhaps part of the problem is the way in which the corruption of sin bends our attentiveness; shaping our expectations. Sin, arising as it does from corrupt desires, is self-absorption. James seems to hint at this problem in his rebuke in the opening verses of chapter four:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet[a] you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and[b] adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."

James acknowledges that our displeasure arises from the self-absorbing nature of our desires for pleasure. We want what we want, but when we do not receive (did we not think to ask?). We grumble and fight and steal to get it because God has refused it to us (why should He give when we've purposed to abuse it?). God resists such prideful grasping, since such grasping is a being-for-death.

When I grow angry that my child does not fulfill my expectations, do I do well to be upset?

When I get incensed that my student fails to follow my wishes to the exact letter, am I seeing my labor rightly?

When I grow bitter that my colleague cannot seem to "get over" his particular faults, is it from justice or from inconvenience that I condemn?

I do not mean to imply that expectations of results are of necessity flawed. No doubt Adam would have to develop some expectations for how his labor would go, even in paradise, since he had many things over which he was to labor. But when one's expectations are thwarted, this too is from the hand of God, and our reaction demonstrates our own orientation toward Providence. Is God not patient with us? Has He not borne with our stupidity, our rebelliousness, our incapacity? Has He not done so to an exponentially greater degree than we shall ever bear with another soul, indeed all other souls, in our own responsibilities and tasks?

Rome was not built in a day, the Oak of Great Girth and expansive shade did not grow in a fortnight, and no human soul (excepting perhaps Enoch), no matter the greatness of its growth, has even reached full maturity in this course of life in this broken body.

What then shall deliver our minds from captivity to the discontentedness of misplaced desires? Surely the love of Christ. If self-absorption wrecks upon the rocks of wretched desires, contentedness must embark unto the safe harbors of Christ's handiwork on our behalf. Chronicling the patience of Christ toward oneself cannot but make evident the great discrepancy between where we ought to have been by now and where we have actually come. I may not throw teenage tempter tantrums at my stupid siblings any longer, but I still complain when my boy's shoes come untied (again). At the same time, chronicling the effects of God's kindness reveals how much further we have come than we would have had God not show that grace by which we were made able to stand. I may still complain when my boy's shoelaces remain perpetually uncoupled, but it doesn't take me very long to repent of it, nor do I seem to fall so easily prey to the temptation as once I did.

In short, it is not quite enough to "think of others" in order to do well by them as instruments of growth in their sanctification. One must "consider oneself rightly" which certain requires a healthy dose of remembering, counting, even reveling in all the various ways Christ's love for us has patiently shaped us through all of our deficiencies and recalcitrance in order to go and do likewise.

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