“He is with me wherever I go,” said Quirrell quietly. “I met him when I traveled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it… Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me.” Quirrell shivered suddenly. “He does not forgive mistakes easily. (from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
Do you see the gaping hole in Voldemort’s world view? There is no good or evil, he says and teaches his protege’, yet he is harsh and unforgiving when let down. But what is the let down if not evil to Voldemort? There is not such thing as a practical universalist. If a person tells you they don’t believe in good or evil, go and let the air out of their car tire or trick them into giving you their pay check, then you’ll see they believe in evil. No matter what we do all of us smuggle into our minds some standard against which we measure the world. It is unavoidable. It is the result of a created world, not a random one.
“M. Noirtier? But I thought you told me he had become entirely paralyzed, and that all his faculties were completely destroyed?
“Yes, his bodily faculties, for he can neither move nor speak, nevertheless he thinks, acts, and wills in the manner I have described. I left him about five minutes ago, and he is now occupied in dictating his will to two notaries.
“But to do this he must have spoken?”
“He has done better than that. He has made himself understood.
(from The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas)
Olevskoy shouted, “No! Absolutely not! I will not risk an ambush!”
“I swear to you,” Greenwood shouted, “that there will be no ambush, and that you will have the freedom of the village afterward.” Distant echoes, then calm again.
Olevskoy shouted, “Do you believe in God?”
Greenwood was flabbergasted. After a moment he shouted, “No!”
“Then who are you to swear to anything?”
(from The Blue-eyed Shan by Stephen Becker)
And at that, for no reason, Sample said, “Praise God.” It reminded me of a cat yawning. They do that all of a sudden for no good reason, either. It left me even more uneasy. I know there is nothing wrong with saying “Praise God,” and I certainly heard enough of that sort of thing firsthand, growing up in the South, but somehow it always seemed to me to be terribly bad manners, rather like kissing with your mouth open in public. (from Frank Deford’s, Everybody’s All-American)
“Stripped to a scream, undressed to a cry of pain, he sobbed his anger at God in hoarse words that hurt his throat. He asked for nothing now, nor did he wonder if he’d been bad or good. Such concepts were all part of the joke he’d just discovered. He cursed God directly for the savage joke that had been played on him. And in that cursing Mellas for the first time really talked with his God. Then he cried, tears and snot mixing together as they streamed down his face, but his cries were the rage and hurt of a newborn child, at last, however roughly, being taken from the womb.” (from Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes)
A friend emailed last week to ask about crying out to God. She said I made it sound simple, but she felt intimidated by the prospect. As I thought through this with her it occurred to me that many of us probably feel scared or awkward about crying out to God. I wondered why this should be. If God isn’t the great comforter then what is He? If we can’t run to him in our sorrow, where can we go? And then it struck me; we do run to him, we do cry out to him, we do expect him to comfort us, but we also expect him to keep us from needing comfort! Isn’t he supposed to protect us??? Isn’t he supposed to stop the pain dead in its tracks??? How can we run to a God and cry to a God who didn’t keep us safe and didn’t guard our hearts? If we let ourselves rest upon this idea for a moment I think we might discover that instead of crying out to God for comfort, what we’d really like to do is to cry at God in pain. We’d like to ventilate our anger at not being protected. And that is scary for a lot of reasons. Is it ok to be angry at God? Is our theology big enough to allow for this? Is our morality in the way? Religion leaves no room for God-anger, it only lets us account for self-anger or others-anger. Either we messed up and we are getting what we deserve or someone else (the bad people) are doing what bad people do and God will get them eventually. But we do not blame God for our mistakes or for bad people being bad. God stays lilly white. He stays above reproach.
This is not Christianity. Christianity is a God who gets dirty. The gospel is a God who, while remaining fully God, allows himself to become reproachable; who, while remaining completely faultless, accepts the blame for every fault. If we look upon the cross long enough we will not find the answer to our suffering. We will not see why our tears fall, or why we were not protected. But we will see this – we will see that the real God did not run away from our anger or the anger of God the Father. We will see that the wrath of men and God were not great enough to destroy Jesus Christ. And we will see that the one thing we know about suffering is that God willingly participates in it with us. He doesn’t stay lilly white. He becomes darkness itself. Jesus was not protected. Jesus was not comforted. Jesus cried out and was unanswered. My heart can sometimes not contain itself when I look on this, even in my own suffering. I know I cannot accuse my God, the real God, of apathy toward my low estate. The cross contradicts me. Perhaps we do not begin to speak with God until we cry in pain and anger at him. Surely he is not afraid of it, just as I was not afraid to hear my children cry themselves to sleep when they were infants, knowing I’d provided all they needed and that they were safe and secure in my house only needing the crying in order to sleep well.
“You see sir,” he said, addressing Bus, “we’ve lost a lot of men [building] this (air)strip. Every foot has been paid for. It’s not to be misused lightly.” (from James Michener’s South Pacific)
Sacrifice demands respect, The higher the sacrifice, the higher the respect. But it also is worthless unless it is put to use. The sacrifice of Christ demands the highest respect because it was the highest sacrifice, but we must make use of it. We must not hesitate to land our planes upon it or act as if using it to gain access to God is some unusual thing. It is the exact thing for which he suffered and died.
“Caligula or Nero, those treasure-seekers, those desirers of the impossible, would have accorded to the poor wretch, in exchange for his wealth, the liberty he so earnestly prayed for. But the kings of modern times, restrained by the limits of mere probability, have neither courage nor desire. They fear the ear that hears their orders, and the eye that scrutinizes their actions.” (from The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas – on the Abbe Faria’s offer of his treasure for his freedom)
The is no leadership without risk. Sad to say it is often the evil men; the Caligula’s and the Nero’s who are worse men and better leaders than “good” men because their lust for wealth or power drives them to attempt the impossible. They do not fear the eyes that scrutinize or the ears that hear their plans. They risk all. It takes more than good character and good intentions and even good beliefs to be a good leader. It takes faith. It takes willingness to risk all in pursuit of those good things, and to take whatever may come. It would be insanity to risk our reputation on the crazy old Abbe Faria’s treasure. Much safer to keep him and our reputation locked up safe and sound in the Château d’If. But leaders don’t lead by protecting themselves or their reputations; leaders always lead at the risk of their reputations. This is why the greatest leader ever took the greatest risk when he gave up his good name to rescue us from our prison, and in the process gained the Name that is above all names.