Monday, June 20, 2011

When all hope is lost

Daniel M. Harrell, Senior Minister of The Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota, on the "Poet of the Descending Road: T.S. Eliot":
.... He lost all hope in civilization's progress or humanity's capacity for self-redemption. This loss of hope affected him not only ideally, but personally too. His acute disillusionment threw him into the arms of God.

He converted to Christianity in 1927 having become convinced that redemption for persons or peoples had to be in Jesus; the only one in whose historical dying and rising any actual redemption had ever actually happened. Christ was the only one in whom water had ever sprung from a rock. Following his conversion, Eliot's poetry and plays took on decidedly religious tones.

Most significant of his post-conversion works was The Four Quartets written in 1943 amidst yet another World War. By the time Eliot wrote it, he had come to the conclusion that authentic faith must occur according to the pattern set forth by Christ himself; namely, dying (figuratively as well as physically) in order to fully live. Eliot advocated a descending road to redemption. For Eliot, the end of the descent was that place where all hope in self or others was lost. Entering into a deep darkness of hopelessness forces an awareness of our sinful presumptions and powerlessness. This final darkness, deeper than mere doubts or disillusionment, is what is colloquially meant when we speak of hitting rock bottom.
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
. . . And we all go . . . into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.
. . . I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light,

. . . In my end is my beginning. . . . The end is where we start from.
As Eliot's poem hints, rock bottom is where you finally discover the Rock who is Christ. When death to self occurs, life in Christ begins. Ending in order to begin, dying in order to live, this is fundamental Gospel. Christians celebrate Jesus' death inasmuch as it negates death; but Christ's death never eliminated dying, it only transforms the meaning and purpose of dying. As Paul wrote, the "old self is crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin." Because all have sinned, dying is not an option. Whether or not you stay dead, that's the option. The choice becomes one between what kind of dying are you going to do, or as Eliot puts it, what sort of fire are you going to face? The Pentecost fire that refines you or the Judgment Day fire that kills you? You have to pick your fire. And both will hurt. ....

I'm always struck how people will watch other's suffering and feel their faith toward God wobble. "How can God coexist with such evil in the world? How can he let these bad things happen? Is the Lord even there?" However these same people, in the midst of their own suffering, suddenly find their faith and find their voice:
Dead upon the tree my Savior
Let not be in vain Thy labor
Help me Lord, in my last fear
Dust I am, to dust am bending
From the final doom impending
Help me Lord for death is near.
Such is the way of descent. No one wants rock bottom, but everyone wants solid rock. "You must lose your life to save it," Jesus said. And so you must. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live," Paul wrote to the Galatians, "but Christ lives in me. Whatever life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  [more]