A Certain Madness

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68)

Sometimes I get tired of the God thing. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate my salvation as much as the next guy. I’m grateful that my many, shall we say, indiscretions no longer count against me—well, as much as they used to anyway. I like the thought that there’s somebody on the other end of the prayer line (or at least his voice mail). I also like the idea of not being permanently dead. And most of the time I don’t mind hanging out with the saints either, that is, for a short time, if I absolutely have to, if there’s good coffee, and an exit. Heck, I even like the Bible in a theoretical yes-that’s-the-book-for-me sort of way. Still, in spite of all that, I have to admit that sometimes the whole spiritual apparatus can weigh me down like the chains on Marley’s ghost.

It’s not the big-ticket negatives that get to me. There’s not a lot of burning at the stake going on around here these days, or lion feeding either, which is good since I’m not much of an animal person. But I don’t mind being the odd man out in culturally hip crowds. In fact, I get a kind of odd pleasure from the being-in-it-but-not-of-it schtick. My trick is to season lofty piety with dashes of witty irreverence. That way I can project both urbane worldliness and mild disapproval at the same time. Even finding myself on the wrong side of social and religious issues isn’t all that bad. I generally keep my balder opinions to myself and let others rant themselves into stupor. It can be rather entertaining. On the very rare occasion when somebody really does want to know what I think, I reply with an articulate, intelligent humility that even I admire. Overall, I can pretty much hold my own against the culture’s well-groomed profanities, vanities, and inanities.

But what sometimes does get to me is this chronic sense that I am not my own. Okay, like duh. The Apostle Paul says it point-blank: You are not your own; you were bought as a price—and his buddy Peter adds that the purchase price was nothing less than the precious blood of Christ. (Apparently there are no discounts for deity.) Whoa. So much for the Jesus set me free thing. Yeah, I know. Paul says that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, but then he goes off and writes, You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. As I read it, there’s no such thing as free agency, only breach of contract. As Bob Dylan once sang during a short season of religious lucidity, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

On one hand, that’s sort of good news. I mean, it would pretty much suck if you were stuck with the devil as CEO. (I grant you that some of the short-term Satan Inc. perks are pretty cool, but the retirement plan leaves a lot to be desired.) So Jesus nullifies that dead-end situation and transfers you to his dad’s corporate roster. There’s no question that this is a definite improvement in the destiny department, so I’m not complaining exactly. On the other hand, slavery is slavery. Sure, God is really nice about it. He even helps out from time to time when he’s not too busy. But there’s no escaping the fact that he owns you. He’s got the bloody receipt to prove it. From God’s perspective, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to choose.

What’s a guy to do? Some days I’d love to shake off the God thing and romp buck naked and unrestrained through the poppy fields. Some days I’d love to swipe my world clean of transcendence and guiltlessly abandon myself to the mere surface of things, to shamelessly revel in the book of nature without its author breathing down my neck. But I can’t. I know too much. I know that it is not force that constrains me, but divine love. I am hostage to an incomprehensible act of utter devotion, a sacrifice of obscene passion to which I can offer only dumbstruck submission.

I am indeed free, but where else would I go?


2 Responses

  1. It seems to me that I have read somewhere in the New Testament that Jesus said I no longer call you servants but friends.

  2. Exactly. I’ve said for years that “where else would we go?” is actually one of the greatest statements of faith in the Bible.

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