I like logic. I like things to make sense. I think we all do mostly.
I like to understand.
I like answers.
I like to have my little ducks in a row.
I like surprises… as long as I see them coming and can prepare for them appropriately…
My son loves math and finding a curriculum that continued to challenge him was daunting. I stumbled upon Sudoku, I had never heard of it before, played it a little and thought he might like it. He did… initially, until it became a matter of replication of formulae. Then I found Kenken. A mixture of Sudoku and math operations, it is harder and goes from fairly simple to hours of work, computation and elimination. As I taught him how to solve a kenken puzzle, I began to enjoy the process myself.
I recently sent Mark a kenken puzzle and wasn’t very surprised that he quickly picked up (without even much in the way of instructions I might add) how to solve them. The following three pictures are examples of kenken puzzles. From simple to ridiculous.
*Quick simple rules. Each dark outlined area is called a cage and in each cage the answer is the number, by way of the operation listed. Each row and column must contain (in the first example) the numbers 1,2,3 without repeating in any subsequent row or column (like sudoku).
There is no guess work to kenken. There is some initial supposition backed by process of elimination and a lot of writing and erasing, but there is only one way and one answer to a kenken puzzle.
It is black and white. It is entirely logical. You do not have to wonder if you got it right. There is no grading on a curve, no subjectivity if you try real hard… it is right or wrong, utterly objective.
In a couple weeks Easter will be upon us. If there is a polar opposite to logic and objectivity, it exists in the advent of Easter. Sometimes we use the etymology of the word, whether Saxony or Hebrew or pagan or Christian, to back our own opinions on whether or not to hide eggs and eat chocolate. But the celebration exists in the hearts and minds of Christians as the crucifixion and resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s crucifixion and in fact, his life, was not logical. It does not make sense. In chess, we sacrifice pawns, we do not sacrifice the king. In fact, in chess, the king is never taken. It is illegal to even move into a position that puts the king into jeopardy. When we win a piece, we snatch it from the board in triumph, setting it off to the side, out of play, defeated. Not so the king. The king is no great player in the game of chess. He stands alone in the back, rarely even moving and then, only once and out of the way. He is a defended object. When checkmate is called, the king’s piece is rarely even removed from the board. The game is simply over. He can move no more. The game of chess is tactical and logical. Sometimes we see God as we see the king in chess. Valuable… but only as the end objective, uninvolved, disinterested, separated from our small existence on this round green and blue chess board. But we are wrong in that notion.
Unlike chess, Christ was not captured. He was indeed arrested. But capture assumes evasion. Upon his arrest he did not evade. Not in his speech, not in his actions, not in his defense, not in his death. Nor did Christ sacrifice others in defense of himself. It was completely totally inexplicably illogical.
And what of our fascination with the cross itself? We wear them as jewelry, emblazon them on clothing, and hang them on walls. They are crusted with jewels or shaped in ornate filigree, finely carved and crafted. But the one on which Christ hung was none of those things. It was not an emblem of beauty, it was a blood covered, rough hewn symbol of punishment and torture. Visible to all, as a sign and warning and deterrence against crime. The just punishment for the accused. Go into any jewelry store and one of the most popular themes in design is the cross. But I am left to wonder… where are the hangman’s noose earrings? The Guillotine necklaces? The electric chair bracelets? Why do we cling to the cross? It was not technologically advanced, it was not costly or of great value. A fallen timber, stout enough to hold the weight of a man shuddering in agony. Of all the mixed messages, the cross offers the wildest paradox. That the bloodiest mechanism that the Romans used to intimidate, punish, and torture… the emblem of dominion and rule and power and might to crucify men; God used to free mankind by crucifying sin itself.
How carelessly and lightly do we toss around the phrase, “I would die for you.” I think it is a statement intended to show great feeling or sentiment and I think the intent is gracious and I do not judge it when I hear it. I have never spoken those words, but in my heart that force and commitment beats for a handful of people. Even so, I would be very careful with those words. Life is an amazing thing. Instinctively we grasp, at times desperately at it. Infants, just born, have an instantaneous response known as the Moro reflex. Stimulated by picking the infant up from the floor and then lowering him sharply in a simulation of being dropped the baby will quickly thrust his arms out fingers wide as though grasping something and sharply bring them in as though holding on. The reflex is tested by medical staff as a sign that the baby has a certain level of motor and neurological development. The reflex is lost shortly after birth but only in its motor reflexive nature. We all grasp. We all cling and reach out. I have done it. I continue to do it. Did it just this last week. As adults, we like to feel the strength of self-sufficiency. But the truth is, the humbling, sometimes embarrassing and humiliating truth is… we need people. I reached out to Erin Sisson, to Mark, to Miranda, to my children. I needed to be caught. Need… sometimes it seems like a dirty little word. It smacks of frailty and inability and lack. But need is part of the human condition. Need is not desire or want or transient. The object of our grasp may change throughout life, but the underlying need to hold on… is extinguished only at the very end of life. We struggle to continue.
“To live is Christ, to die is gain.” I used to read those words and I understood them on some small level, like a thin film over a plate glass window. Paul said a lot of paradoxical things. Perhaps none so profoundly perplexing as this. Sometimes when we fixate on our light and momentary troubles, we lose the greater focus and full weight of the gift of both life and death. In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews he says, “let us run with
the race marked out for us.” In the NASB translation, which I read most frequently, it says “the race set before us.” I do not think of myself as any member of a brain trust, and this is precisely an example of why. For some reason, reading that just this morning, hit me differently. Never in all my life of having tripped carelessly over these words…. has it hit me before that perhaps, just maybe, I have a raced marked out for me. That my race was in fact uniquely designed for me, and that I have not been asked to chart its course, only travel it. Too often I have tried to control its path, to see beyond the next curve, missing the scenery as I go. I would love to fit my race into a neat package. A package of my own design. I would like the roadmap of my race on a turn by turn GPS with perhaps James Earl Jones narrating my next move. “In one point five miles veer left toward your college degree.” “In three miles take the exit toward your new home, on the left.” But James was apparently booked when I needed direction and God was seemingly quiet (though not absent) on the subject. What I have slowly (because …. I am NOT a part of a brain trust!) learned is that God has placed people in my life, with a voice of more value than James’ not because of the timbre or tone of their voice, but because of the quality and commitment of their hearts and minds. Mark and Miranda are two such people. They have been, in some very real ways, a sort of GPS for me. A light in a dark place. We can ignore the GPS, and the GPS is not always the most expedient, nor is it always up to date. But it gives us clarity and clarity lends comfort and strength and resolve in the face of pain, weakness and uncertainty.
In college I took up competitive swimming. I was not fast but had a good deal of endurance. I began to train for a one mile national swim meet held annually in Huntington, Indiana. During the course of training I met someone who was a competitive triathlete. This last week, this conversation replayed in my head and the implications hit me particularly hard between the eyes, probably right where I needed it most. I asked what he thought of when he was racing. How did he keep going through all the stages and the distance. His response was, “I double down.” I asked him what that meant, as I had never heard that term before. He told me that it was a reference to the game of Black Jack. I said, “That doesn’t help me, contextualize it for me.” This was his response. “I hit my stride 10 miles ago, I went through the pain, the tired, the boredom. Those were the little battles along the way, my temporary focus. Now past all those things, I double down to keep going.” I asked him, “Do you focus on the end line?” His reply is what rings in my ears this week. “I keep that in my sight, but there is race to be run in each and every step up until the very end. If I stop one foot before the end, I haven’t finished. Finishing strong has nothing to do with the 26.1 miles I just endured. It has everything to do with the .1 before me. Every step of that .1 is savored, because it is pain and heart and grit and tenacity. It is the very hardest and the very best part of the race.”
It was mildly interesting then. Poignantly more so now.
I have no idea how Christ made it to the cross. I have no idea why he chose that path. It could have been a quick end. An instant death. It was the finalization that was redemptive. The resurrection that was perfecting. Why did he choose the pain and suffering? It was not logical. It did not fit neatly into a kenken puzzle, something completely understandable, something black and white, right or wrong, yes or no. If we could but figure out the X axis, we would subsequently have the answers to what lies on the Y axis. But faith is not logical. Nor is faith the mystical and magical contrivance we so often see in flowery sentimental poetry and annoying, seemingly deep tautologies such as, “it is what it is” in an attempt to explain it. Faith, in simple words, is fairly easy to define and intensely hard to live within. Faith is a choice. It is a choice to have “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It does not come from a place of proof, it is planted in the soil of the doubting human heart. How paradoxical that God gave us the ability to choose to deny faith… or live abundantly in it; the consequence being, we must always be in a perpetual state of not quite knowing and yet ever choosing to trust in our blindness and his vision. His roadmap, carefully laid out, and sometimes ever a mystery. His ways are not our ways. We were not called to understand the road map, only travel it.
Never fall into the falsehood that Christ’s death was pity for fallen man. Or that His love was sentimental or nostalgic. His death was the curse of sin, taken with full knowledge and understanding. His own bloody and painful roadmap. The difference being, every step along the way, he knew led him to one hill and a borrowed grave. The measure of holy God’s hatred for sin, poured out on Calvary into the body of His perfect son, the Lamb of God.
Quickly following Christ’s words, “It is finished.” are the words, “He gave up his spirit.” In every reference in the Septuagint to the death of the patriarchs this word, גוע in Hebrew or (later) Greek, κατεπαυσε is used. It is translated, “to cease.” But the words, “he gave up his spirit” in reference to Christ on the cross is this phrase: παρεδωκε το πνευμα. It is translated, “He delivered up.” Christ’s death was not martyrdom. His life was not taken, it was given. He did not merely die… he was in complete control of the relinquishment of his spirit. And he submitted to the will of his Father, to the point of death. The propitiation was completed on the cross in the death of not only the Son of God, but the sin of the world. But only one of those two things remained nailed to the cross. Crucified and dead. Christ’s bloody body was dropped to the ground, a mass of flayed and swollen skin. A shell, a corpse. But… hope springs as morning breaks.
Morning has broken, a pretty song, NOT written by Cat Stevens though many attribute the song to him. It was written by a timid, shy woman of 50 years of age in the 1930’s. Eleanor Farjean. She spent her childhood surrounded by books. She did not feel she fit in with friends at school and retreated to writing as a way of expressing herself. She wrote children’s books and poetry but is remembered mostly just for one small Gaelic tune. Morning has broken.
Easter does not end at the cross. Easter begins there.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:3-8
*Warning… The video below does contain graphic images, taken from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”
Thank you Father, for this horrible wonderful awfully hard gift. The gift of your Son, his blood, his resurrection and our hope for the future. Make me new.