Where Does the Cycle of Sin and Redemption End?
At the church we attend, one of our pastors is in the midst of a sermon series titled “Flow.” The title and subject matter of the series interests me for three reasons.
First, there is the question of cultural progress and economic growth. It has not been fashionable among eonomists to study economic cycles for at least 50 years. The flow of time is not given explicit consideration in economic models. See, for example, this statement about changes in market prices by Eugene Fama. There are important exceptions, of course, but in general economists and policymakers (including judges and lawmakers) think about economic equilibrium as static — a perfect allocation of people and things, timeless in that, once achieved, there would be no further need for exchange.
Second, as explained in an earlier post, there are the philosophical questions about what exists and how we know it. Our understanding of self, our understanding of the world (including, most importantly, other people), and our understanding of how the world works (i.e., of mathematical and physical law) are part of a feedback loop, running continuously as time flows.
Third, the title of the series is shared with a book by University of Chicago psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronouced “cheeks sent me high”), whose work I first read about in David Sloan Wilson’s Darwin for Everyone. (Footnote: February 12th of this year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Darwin and Lincoln.) Thanks in large part to the sermon series, I’ve dug up a copy of a couple of Csikszentmihalyi’s books, and I’m been enjoying them both so much that I’ll probably have another few blog posts about them. The one that I’m in the middle of reading right now is titled, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
All three of these (our culture or economy, our minds, and our freedom or happiness) have a connection in Jesus’ resurrection.
Consider how the Psalmist describes Israel (Psalm 78:34-39):
Whenever God slew them, they would seek him;
they eagerly turned to him again.
They remembered that God was their Rock,
that God Most High was their Redeemer.
But then they would flatter him with their mouths,
lying to him with their tongues;
their hearts were not loyal to him,
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return.
This is our human condition. As imperfect creatures, it is our fate to live life in a cycle of sin and redemption. Are they false when the holiest people among us point out that they are too weak to have done anything without God’s strength? Not at all. It is their ruthless self-criticism and unabashed vulnerability that brings them again and again to their knees to call upon God for their strength. They are perfected by bringing their attention again and again back to God, whose strength is perfect.
Does it matter to God that we are false, that we “flatter him with our mouths” when our hearts remain disloyal? Yes and no. Yes in that it was our sin that made the sacrifice of Christ necessary to bring us into community with God. No in that the Sacrifice has been made once and for all. Whereas the Psalmist could look only to the reign of David to find hope for Israel, we have Jesus.
It seems that a similar vision caused T.S. Eliot to write in Burnt Norton:
At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
and there is only the dance.
Christ is the head of the church in part because only in him is there stillness. (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”) It is our fate both as individuals and as his body to live as an evolving organism and superorganism, not yet perfected but set in motion in His image. I find it satifying to imagine how one day we may be in harmony with Him so much that His perfect will is manifest through our lives. A life filled with the challenge of fellowship and obedience, of God’s gentle corrections and forgiveness for our sins, is the ultimate flow experience, engaging every aspect of life.