Thursday, November 21, 2013

Redeemed Complexity

I often gripe at how life is so complicated. 

Why does every topic that we study end up being so much more complex than what we had anticipated at the outset? I remember beginning my Bible classes at OHCC (Oak Hills Christian College) and feeling an overwhelming sense of finiteness.

To add to the problem, at the outset of my freshman year, one of my professors said, “I began Bible school with the assumption that it would answer my questions...but I left with more questions than answers. Then I went to seminary and left with even more questions. Now, after years of experience pastoring and instructing in college, I have even more questions!” 

Throughout my years of school, I progressively became more aware of my finiteness, as my instructor forewarned. Conversely, there seemed to be a progression of knowledge as well. When I pursued a subject, I found it hard to “stop digging.” I had questions run subconsciously through my mind. How could I effectively learn a subject without learning it thoroughly? What if I missed a valuable piece of information? Am I going about this the right way or is there a better approach? 

I didn’t like leaving ends open and suppositions unsupported. There is something satisfying about being sure of something. With knowledge comes control, and with control comes power. Our problem with complexity may be rooted in our desire for controlling power, but I think our more basal desire is to eradicate our fear of complexity. There is a saying, “We fear what we don’t understand,” and I like to believe it because it makes sense. However, the consideration of something to be sensible raises another issue: does something need to make sense for it to be true, or can something be true even though it makes no sense?  

Why is it so hard for finite beings to accept complex ideas that don’t make sense? 

Maybe a different question needs to be asked: is it even possible for us to be finite and simple in a complex world? If we cannot be infinite, can we be simple?

The first humans who walked upon this great world were finite, like us, but they were also able to live with their own complexity and the complexity of God, which is something we find hard to do today; they walked and talked with a complex God and trusted him. In a sense, they were “simple” because they did not fear what they didn’t understand (complexity). It wasn’t until after they disobeyed him that they became fearful. Interestingly, they became fearful only when they obtained the knowledge of good and evil.

I would argue that the knowledge of good and evil invites the knower to blur lines and muddy issues. For instance, if we know black is black and white is white, then we know how to make grey by blurring black and white. If we know neither, how can we know grey? Not knowing black, white and grey doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, it simply means that complicating matters by attempting to color things for ourselves is impossible. In the same way, before our obtainment of knowing good and evil, we could not complicate life and attempt to simplify complexity because there was no need to simplify anything; we simply lived in simple obedience to a complex God. We trusted someone we didn’t completely understand--and we were fine with it. It wasn’t until we became aware of our own complexity that we became fearful of complexity.

Another problem with knowing good and evil is that our ancestors’ attainment of such knowledge cost us our innocence because they attained it by disobedience. This loss of innocence can also be called “sin.” Sin is the fatal infection of innocent complexity. It works alongside complexity to muddy clean water and blur distinct lines; it poisons ideas, minds and hearts. When a finite, complex being becomes aware of its own complexity and is unable to simplify it, it becomes fearful of complexity. At one time, we could be complex and have simple obedience to a complex God, but disobedience made obedience less simple because it turned our complexity into instruments of sin. 

It seems that life as we know it is bound to chains of complexity and we cannot simplify it enough to feel freed from it. The good news, though, is that we have been given light to see past our own sinful complexity as well as see our second chance at innocent complexity 

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3, emphasis added).

Jesus appeals to the innocent faith of children to make his point. We all have the opportunity to turn and, like a child, believe. He is saying that obedience is simple, despite our tendency to either complicate obedience or refuse to obey altogether. All who are in Christ are given the opportunity to be obedient again.

Does our ability to obey mean that our complexity is removed? Of course not. It is one thing to be ignorant of our own complexity, and another thing to have it be redeemed; we were once ignorant, but we cannot be anymore. What we can be, though, is redeemed to live in simple obedience again. We all are trapped in sinful complexity, but that does not mean innocence (sinlessness) cannot be imparted to us. Jesus has freed us from sin, but with that freedom comes the redemption of complexity. In other words, we are able to live with our complexity with new eyes. 

These new eyes give us to ability to appreciate complexity. We are now freed to swim in the complexities of God and trust him again with simplicity. We are freed to explore our own complexity without fear. We are free to explore and study complex issues and leave them complex. Sin is what made us fearful of God, but Christ has removed the cause of fear so that we can live fearlessly in the presence of complexity. 

We are irreparably conscience of our complexity, but, like scars who have been healed, we have had our awareness redeemed and healed.

Our redeemed complexity allows us to be innocent again, and this innocence allows us to experience the fearlessness of living with a complex God who we will never understand.

Will we trust someone we don’t understand?

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