Monday, May 07, 2012

The Now

The Time is Now
(In hindsight, I think this blog works as either another comment on Love Wins or as a second installment of my upcoming book, When to Say Yes.)

In the fine cinematic masterpiece Wayne's World, I believe it was Garth who uttered the famous dictum to his harassed and harried friend, "Live in the Now." 

Rob Bell would agree. (More or less.) He finishes Love Wins with one of his key convictions: Life, in Jesus's eyes does, not consist in "going to heaven when we die" (although Jesus does promise eternal life). Instead, it is about responding to God now.
Whatever you have been told about the end— 
the end of your life, 
the end of time,the end of the world— 
Jesus passionately urges us to live like the end is here, 
If I understand Bell correctly (and I hope I do since I've been reading and re-reading him for the past month or so), he is urging us to live now in God's presence, to respond now to the Good News.

I'll bet you can guess where this brings me: back to St. Clive (aka C. S. Lewis). Lewis puts the problem of human existenceor better the ongoing temptation of time—into the mouth of his fictional devil, Screwtape. (Remember in reading this that "the Enemy" is God.)

we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth—ready to break the Enemy's commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other— dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

C. S. Lewis has put the finger right on my pulse at least. I am concerned, and even pre-occupied, way too often about what's to come. My work, and my desire to achieve excellence, almost implies obsessiveness with the future. But if we only live in the future, we never live. 

I turn to another mentor. Blaise Pascal, that eternally insightful scientist and philosopher of the seventeenth century, pretty much described the same dilemma, but set this dilemma in the words of philosophical reflection. This comes from his Pensées: 

We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.
Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.
I'll let Rob Bell have the last word on this topic, as he ties this call "to live in the now" with the words of Jesus's parables. I find these words true and truly moving. Even though I've quibbled with Bell in previous posts on some things, words like this reminds me that there's deep wisdom in Love Wins.
Jesus tells these stories to wake us up to the timeless truth that history moves forward, not backward or sideways. Time does not repeat itself. Neither does life. While we continually find grace waiting to pick us up off the ground after we have fallen, there are realities to our choices. While we may get other opportunities, we won't get the one right in front of us again.


Janis said...

This puts me in mind of one of my favorite quotes from George Mac Donald.

The next hour, the next moment, is as much beyond our grasp and as much in God's care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is just as foolish as care for the morrow, or for a day in the next thousand years - in neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything. Those claims only of the morrow which have to be repeated today are of the duty of today: the moment which coincides with work to be done, is the moment to be minded; the next is nowhere till God has made it.

Bell seems to say that we miss opportunities through inattentaveness to the present. Mac Donald's thought is somewhat more forceful, that worry about the future distracts us from present duties.

I was unfamiliar with Pascal's thought on the matter; I'm glad you included it in your post.

GCootsona said...

This is perfect. Thanks for your additions.

M Fitzpatrick said...

Greg, I've been reading your blog for years, and honestly this may be your best post to date. Bell, Lewis and Pascal (with a little Coostona sprinkled in) have made for an amazing and edifying concoction. What a beautiful affirmation of life through the lens of faith and relationship with God. Love it, sir!

Joseph said...

I am reminded of the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. I believe the talents representative of every blessing (good thing) God provides for us. This includes those things outside of what we might think of as abilities or gifts or ‘talents’. It is the servant that was given the one talent I want to focus on. The Master upon his return settled accounts & very angrily told the ‘wicked, lazy servant’ he should have put his one talent on deposit with the bankers to earn interest. And from what I know of banking, there is no paying interest based on the future; it is only calculated/earned daily…

We receive all the goodness of God, but only able to do something with it ‘today’. There is divine strategy in the way God has designed out existence. We are not able to re-live the past, nor are we allowed access to the future. We are meant to live & move & have our being in the present only. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” And, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

It is in this moment we choose to bless as we have been blessed. And that’s all any of us are given to invest in the kingdom…

Anonymous said...

Greg and all,

Living in the now makes a lot of sense. We have a lot of work to do to make this a better world. - Joe Loomis

Joseph said...

Another comment about living in the now...

There have been a plethora of books written about visits to heaven/hell either as a near-death-experience, or simply being transported there in the spirit. Some have traditional Christian references, others do not. I have read a few to satisfy my curiosity & see if there is anything in them that is pertinent to this life; do those that claim such things ‘embrace’ life instead of being Embraced by the Light?

Although interesting to ponder, the events being recounted are too detailed & even sensationalistic. They are intended to amaze & impress the reader with the very special account of supernatural dimensions. The emphasis is on fantastic revelations, but the claimant cannot be effectively removed from the retelling. This keeps them in the ‘spotlight’ as someone very special & authoritative on things neither scripture nor Church tradition throughout history claims to be infallible.

I am skeptical of any such claims. I do not dismiss the experiences themselves as being fraudulently manufactured to sell books. I simply do not believe they are the untarnished ‘truth’ of supernatural experiences intended to fill us in on missing details Jesus & the authors of Holy Writ deliberately avoided.

My point? Bell’s emphasis on living in the now seems to be a common sense approach, but not how many Christians go about living their lives. I have a tendency to live in the near future somewhere. I am making plans or directing my life to the next big step/milestone marker just over the horizon. I know there is wisdom in making plans & I am convinced God does not expect us to live a stagnant existence, but I am apt to miss the only opportunity for impacting the kingdom today when I get preoccupied with tomorrow. Bell has challenged me with this practicality & for that I am thankful...