10 January 2013

Growing Grace-Full

“But you, friends, are well-warned. Be on guard . . . . Grow in grace and 
understanding of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ."

— Peter, in his second letter to the scattered exiles (3:17–18)


You say, “Dawson?” I say, “What?” You say, “Dawson . . . .”

I’ll never forget that common refrain coming from the mouth of Dawson McAllister, especially since it was at a youth beach camp in 1991 where he was speaking that I walked down the aisle for the first time of my life, a shattered young man. Whenever I blow it big, usually in private, and usually revolving around lust or arrogance or anger, I start to replay that moment of a muggy summer night in Florida, suddenly overcome with tears. I can’t help but wonder, what kind of tears were they?

That’s the question that has plagued me over the years, not least when I’m struggling with deep, personal sins. They weren’t quite tears of joy; they didn’t feel much like tears of sorrow. And that’s what worries me—the authenticity of that “conversion experience.” What was I crying about? My penchant for introspection drives me to categorize those tears. But they defy categorization. They mock me.

Then I remember those mysterious words penned by Saint Paul:
The moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. (Rom. 8:26–28)
. . . wordless sighs, our aching groans.” That sounds about right. Overwhelmed as I was at the end of that aisle, surrounded by friends and acquaintances, whispering encouragements and praises in prayer while laying on hands, my groaning was too deep for words. God the Spirit, that one person who most of all sees through my aloof facade, when I didn’t have the words to even attempt to explain why I got up and walked toward the front, were right alongside helping me along—indeed, giving me wordless sighs and aching groans, to the glory of his grace. I suppose that’s a category, but it still defies explanation.

Of course, that doesn’t dissuade theologians from attempting to do so (thankfully). One such theologian writes that what the apostle is speaking of here is “an agonizing in prayer, a mixture of lament and longing in which, like a great swell of tide at sea, ‘too full for sound or foam,’ the weight of what is taking place has nothing to do with the waves and ripples on the surface” (Wright comm. Rom 8:26–27, p. 599). The Spirit of the living God comes alongside and intercedes at that precise moment—the moment when the individual faces the ruin and misery of the fallen world, finding that no words can express his or her sense of futility and longing for redemption. The Holy Spirit, in other words, enables us to finish our intercessions, despite the outward cry being “reduced” to wordless sighs and aching groans. And they reach the triune God. Yes, they reach him like so many beautiful drops of love on the ear of her beloved.

The odd thing about this experience of mine is that I had no intention or desire for it to happen. Up to the very last moment, that is, even while walking down the aisle, I had no inkling of futility, no lamentation, no remorse. In fact, a close friend came over to me during the fifteenth chorus of “Just as I Am” and whispered something inaudible; I thought he had asked me to come up to the front with him. You know, support and all. “Sure,” I said, and proceeded to follow him. But by the time I reached the end of that aisle I transformed into a crumpled mess. And I didn’t know why. At that moment, indeed, knowledge was completely irrelevant. I’m the last guy wanting to be seen quoting Bono (to be super-cool, one must avoid, at all costs, doing what cool people do), but damn it if he didn’t write the perfect lyrics for what it was I felt (“Until the End of the World,” Achtung Baby):
In waves of regret and waves of joy,
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy.
You, you said you’d wait ‘til the end of the world.
So it goes—we, God-haters all, when the time comes according to his good timing, reach out and find, amazingly, his presence, because that’s what he promised he would do. The various authors of Holy Scripture write about this in various ways, and one of those ways is with the language of “election.”

But, contrary to all the over- and under-statements about this doctrine, election is not about being specially chosen to a place above the rest, as a part of some special club or something like that; it’s about being specially chosen to die to self, to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world—to have, in short, lives providentially shaped “along the same lines as the life of [God’s] Son” (Rom. 8:29).

3 comments:

Jamey Clayberg said...

Good stuff bro

Anonymous said...

Chris,

Please join the true Church, the Catholic Church.

-- Jay Bakker

Chris Donato said...

Jay—

I appreciate the sentiment and the heart from which I trust it springs. I'm increasingly convinced that the issues are so much larger than my little joining of the Catholic communion. I trust our triune Lord's grace is superabundant in the instance that this be a sin. The burdens I feel now, the cynicism, the lack of unity, the ratcheting up of certain non-essential dogmas to the level of essential, which thus cause division, would only follow me there. I'm not sure I'd be the kind of Catholic that many Catholics would want around!

 
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