Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Human Beings

As we continue to look at the idea that men are often called against their will (or not, as I have argued), the question must be asked: to what are men being called at all?

Put another way: are we human beings or human doings?

We read across the surface of the stories of so many of these men who have shaped the stories of our faith, and it is easy for us to say they were called against their will. Yet, the only thing we really see them responding to in these readings is a call to do, not a call to be. If we take a step back into the realm of being called to be, we see again that what we encounter is not a clash of wills, but a failure of imagination. 

Take Jonah. Jonah was called to deliver a message of truth to the wicked city of Nineveh. What's interesting about Jonah is that he is already called a prophet, even before going to Nineveh or not, and this is a title that he does not protest. So the calling on Jonah's life is to be a prophet, and he is not unwilling to do this. He may struggle to envision exactly what that looks like, but he never says, "You know what? I don't want to be a prophet." He only says, "I do not want to go to Nineveh." So in terms of being, Jonah suffers a crisis of imagination. only in terms of doing does he encounter a clash of wills.

Abraham has the same story. He's not unwilling to be the father of many nations, although he can't imagine, at his old age, how that is even going to be possible. A father of many nations is what God has called him to be. But God has also called him to do something - to move, and at another point, to sacrifice his son. These are harder choices. These go against his will, to different degrees. Again, we see a crisis of imagination in response to God's call to be and a clash of wills in response to God's call to do.

Moses has a history of fighting for his people. He's already been spotted protecting and avenging a fellow Hebrew who was under attack. So it's likely that when God told him that he would become a leader for his people, Moses's only protest might be that he just couldn't see it. His imagination couldn't fathom how he could go from the place where he was to the place where God had called him. It's only in the specific call to do something - to go to Pharaoh - that we see Moses say, "Wait a minute. I don't think that's such a good idea." In the call to be, a crisis of imagination; in the call to do, a clash of wills. 

Nor do I think that Noah would have rejected the idea that he and his family be the righteous remnant of the entire human race. Although I can clearly imagine how he might have struggled, looking in the mirror, to imagine himself worthy. But when it comes to boat-building....

Do you see how this keeps playing out over and over again? God calls His people first to be human beings - to be something. To be something distinctive, one thing as opposed to all other things: a prophet, a father, a leader, a remnant. Although we may struggle to see how these things are possible, we do not reject the idea completely or find that it goes against our own will. In general, most of us are more than willing to be what it is that God desires us to be. It fits with our created design, so of course, it's okay by us.

But then God calls His human beings to become human doings - to do something in particular. It is here where we experience a conflict of will. Many times, what God asks us to do is the last thing we want to be doing, the last road we'd take for ourselves. And we have many ways of responding to that second call.

We'll look at some of that tomorrow. 

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