Divide expressions

Divide expressions are ambivalent words whose meaning comes clear only when we know which side of a great divide the speaker stands on.

The End

There are several ways this word might be (mis)understood. A few years ago there came the book entitled in all seriousness, “The End of History.” In it, Francis Fukuyama tempted us to think of ourselves as the end, the culmination, the final product, the perfection toward which history has been striving.

If we have God-language, we are held back from such foolishness. For if history has an end, it can be discussed only by postponing it into mythopoeic time outside time, in the mind of God, which is unknown to us. The world is not being perfected under our management. This requires us to understand that we are never perfect, but as much as always in need of redemption.

A theological consciousness prevents some very great silliness, and averts some grave dangers. The end of history, according to Fukuyama, is liberal democracy, which he thought was on the point of making this a homogeneous world. All anybody needs to do is sign up and agree to play by our rules, and—voilà! (Probably on odd days of the month, this same Fukuyama expatiates on the evils of cultural imperialism. The two minds need never meet.)

Worship

The place where we make that needed confession is at worship. It ought to be self-evident, but it is not, that worship is the unique and proper work of the Church. One could sit in pews a long time and not find this out. Instead, the things of which we are prouder are fellowship, social action, and unconditional acceptance. All of these can all be found elsewhere: in lodge halls, human service agencies, and animal shelters.

Worship is performed in public, meant to be seen. It might be offered to God in church, or to the emperor in a festival procession. Another word for it is liturgy: etymologically, the proper work of a person in a public ritual, in keeping with the occasion and the person’s station in life.

Whatever we do in public because of social pressures, real or imagined, is another kind of work; at best, secondary or derivative in importance; at worst, improper work, work that does not belong to us if we know ourselves aright. When we know ourselves aright, as God’s—in other words when we are in our right minds—we will find ourselves worshiping God in all our works.

Faith

Human faith is first God’s faith; his action upon us to which we respond freely. More often, faith is understood as a human attribute; perhaps the end of a personal quest, or a loyal commitment to act, or a leap in the dark over an abyss of uncertainty.  All of these make it sound as if our lives were our space, into which we might invite God, or in which he might intervene. The error of that is clear as soon as it is said. The truth is, God has the initiative. “In the beginning God”—but not only that: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is nothing outside the boundaries of God’s providence; everything, every thing, is part of his offering to us. There is no moment we can divide off and allocate to the worship of God; they all belong to him already.

•                •                •

If a moment passes in which we do anything but worship, then in a sense we have forgotten our proper work, our position in life. That moment is irretrievably lost. It can sometimes seem that the whole service of the Eucharist is summed up in the prayers of confession and absolution, as if life in God were a perpetual accounting of sins large and small. If we let that be all, we will have overlooked what God longs to give us: not something focused on our selves, but his own true Self. All thanks and praise be to him. Amen.

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