Jesus and Mack take off for their picnic at the lake. Mack is stunned when he learns Jesus intends for them to walk across the lake to their destination. When Mack (understandably) has difficulty taking that first step on to water Jesus asks him what he is afraid of. Mack gives a variety of answers but finally Jesus asks him a seemingly random question: “. . . do you think humans were designed to live the present or the past or the future?” He follows that up by making it personal and inquiring of Mack where he spends most of his time in his imagination. “I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present. I spend a big piece in the past, but most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.” (150).
Jesus replies that he lives in the resent and that when he indwells a person he does so in the present. Mack asks Jesus why he spends most of his time in the future. “It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real. You try to play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try to make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear” (151).
“So why do I have so much fear in my life?”
Jesus’ reply cuts right to the chase: “To the degree that those fears have a place in your life, you neither believe I am good nor know deep in your heart that I love you. You sing about it, you talk about it, but you don’t know it” (151).
What is that blunts or eradicates our awareness of the love and goodness of God? Why are we preoccupied and worried with the future? The answer, as Jesus makes clear, is fear. And fear is so powerful because of the ever looming specter of death.
And that is as true for us in our lives as it was for Mack in this story.
William Stringfellow, an American lay theologian, saw this more clearly than anyone else. From our personal bodily life to suprahuman, suprapersonal institutional powers which strangle our cosmos with death, fear of death stalks and terrifies us. Stringellow insistently and stridently insisted, however, that the resurrection of Jesus defeats death and its lethal minions. This goods news frees us free to live and minister within our worlds, its risks and institutions as servants of Christ. Free of the power of the fear of death we may risk even our lives for the sake of Christ, for we are safe in him, and we may live among the powers as free people who no longer have to live by the ethos and ethics they seek to impose on us. All they can do to us is kill us! But Jesus has turned even that possibility into a means of grace as the martyrs of the church teach us. Like Mack, we are free in the certainty of God’s love and goodness seen in Christ, to step of the dock and on to the lake and cross it with Jesus!
And that, in sum, is what Mack needs to learn and what Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu are teaching him. Or rather, they are loving him into a realization and awareness of it!
Why God Doesn’t Just “Fix It”
Jesus and Mack eat their lunch with a beautiful panoramic view of majestic mountains in front of them. This prompts Mack to praise Jesus for his handiwork but also to ask him why he doesn’t just “fix” the planet he created and loves. Fix the mess we’ve made of it and avoid all future pain and suffering. Good question.
Here’s Jesus answer: “Because we gave it to you” (145). And to take it back would short-circuit the whole reason for creation. And that reason? “To force my will on you,” Jesus replied, “is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy” (145). And submission, he adds, is just what Mack has seen and found so winsome and attractive in the relationships of Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu. “Submission,” he continues, is not about authority and it is not about obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we (the trinity) are submitted to you in the same way.”
Befuddled again, Mack asks why God would want to be submitted to humanity. Jesus replies it is because they want to share life with us in intimacy and reciprocity. Slaves are not what God desires. God desires family (146).
“A Larger Twisting”
Mack confesses his difficulty with relationships, unlike his wife Nan. Young has Jesus talk about the sexes in a way that perhaps engages in a bit of gender stereotyping (146-47). Males value their achievements; women value relationships. We could quibble with him over this but I think it more useful to see the point he makes out if it.
Jesus reasserts for Mack the “larger twisting” that has thrown male-female relationships into such disarray.
“The world is broken because in Eden you abandoned relationship with us to assert your own independence. Most men have expressed it by turning to the work of their hands and the sweat of their brows to find their identity, value, and security. By choosing to declare what’s good and evil, you seek to determine your own destiny. It was this turning that has caused so much pain” (146-47).
But that is not how it ought to be.
“We want male and female to be counterparts, face-to-face equals, each unique and different, distinctive in gender but complementary, and each empowered uniquely by Sarayu, from whom all true power and authority originate. Remember, I am not about performance and fitting into man-made structures; I am about being. As you grow in relationship with me, what you do will simply reflect who you really are” (148).
(BTW, when Young uses “complementary” he is not expressing a “complementarian” view of the relation between men and women that is common today. That view claims a basic equality between the sexes but that God has assigned each sex particular roles in life that they must fulfill. This usually gets back to a men are leaders in church and world/women are nurturers in family and church. That, I take it are the “performance and man-made structures” Young mentions in the quote above. He has Jesus here voice a fundamental across-the-board equality between male and female in their gender difference as both pursue the care for the planet and one another God has entrusted to both.)
It is our lust for independence and autonomy, that “larger twisting,” that frustrates our realization and experience of this divine design.
Mack again confesses his weakness and failure in relationships. Jesus responds that he can’t and won’t ever be able to do relationships on his own. The twisted independence that now animates us has to die. Jesus’ life inside us is the only possible source of such a submitted, relationally-rich, life (149).
“Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus,’ it means your independence is killed. I came to give you life, real life, my life. We will come and live our life inside you, so that you begin to see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and touch with our hands, and think like we do. But we will never force that union on you. If you want to do your thing, have at it. Time is on our side” (149).
And with that Jesus tells Mack he has another appointment to go to.