Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What is "normal" life?

"To us things are normal when they are going well. Health, affluence, peace - these are normal, so convinced are we of our own righteousness, of what is our due. But Scripture teaches the very opposite. Unfortunately what is normal now that man is separated from God is war and murder, famine and pollution, accident and disruption. When there is a momentary break in the course of these disasters, when abundance is known, when peace timidly establishes itself, when justice reigns for a span, then it is fitting, unless we are men of too little faith, that we should marvel and give thanks for so great a miracle, realizing that no less than the love and faithfulness of the Lord has been needed in order that there might be this privileged instant. We should tremble for joy as before the new and fragile life of a little child."

- Jacques Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man
(trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1972 [1966]), 178-79.

What is more normal: health or sickness; peace or violence; prosperity or adversity? Ellul is right to highlight the way we can complacently assume the world owes us a living. Every moment of sunshine is a gift to be thankfully received, not a birthright to be demanded. We are not the makers of our own reality; our survival and flourishing are contingent upon so many factors beyond our control, often even beyond our influence. And where we do exert our influence, it is so often ambivalent. Even our best intentioned acts often cause unforeseen harm. Seeking to tread lightly on our path, we trail destruction and confusion behind us. Any good we manage to briefly enjoy is always threatened by dissolution or contamination. It is normal to experience frustration and guilt, disappointment and pain. We live broken lives in a world out of joint.

But there is a deeper reality than even sin and human brokenness. God is not a god of chaos, but of peace. In Christ a new world has dawned. The Spirit therefore teaches us to be discontent with our discontented lives, to treat as normal not the passing age of pain, but the coming kingdom of healing. In light of this future, the ubiquity of evil has been unmasked as a grotesque aberration. To be normal now is to live amidst the dying as those who live again. To be normal is to reject the presumption of my own innocence and yet to be freed from guilt by the vindicated one. To be normal is to love the loveless and accept grace with thanksgiving. To be normal in these days is to be extraordinary.

3 comments:

gbroughto said...

In relation to God, is chaos and peace the best contrast here? Do they belong on the same axis? It is probably my knee-jerk reaction to having had 'the peace of God passes all understanding' as the inappropriate and superficial Christian response to every form of sin, brokenness and pain in the world...
I know you are not suggesting that here, but I am still wondering about the pairing?

I like your 'To be normal now is to live amidst the dying as those who live again' and appears to offer a nice counterpoint to Ellul who, in the quote who used, seems to be making the complementary view 'to be normal now is the expectation of death amidst those who are demanding life.'

Ellul-the-prophet-critiquing-the-world can sometimes be a gloomy figure...

That said, there does seem to be some kind of paradox / dialectic thing of living through the death of Christ, and dying through his resurrection (which should not be wholly pushed out to the eschaton??)

Hardly sounds 'normal' though...

Julian said...

Like it. Whilst we shouldn't be surprised that things are less than we might expect (Christianity explains the apparent brokenness of the world well) - part of our expectation comes from being made into a perfect world that became fallen.

So we should hope for the best in a broken world, and understand why we do, but not demand it.

Drew said...

contingent upon so many factors beyond our control

Ellul reveals the desperate conservatism behind much of our world politics...

Seems an interesting correspondence here with the archbishop's recent comment.