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Spiritual Contrasts – Part Three

Scott on April 11, 2009 at 12:58 am

What is it that makes the idea of faith so distasteful to some?  In threads on this blog there are people whose comments demonstrate total disdain for anyone who is willing to engage both the “6th sense of faith” along with their intellect in order to approach life and the world.  Thus, in the minds of these people, if someone is willing to engage in an exercise of faith then it must follow that the brain and its intellectual capacities have been disengaged.  They believe it is not possible to have both faith and intellectual acumen.   The two, these people believe, are mutually exclusive.  In the minds of some, if one celebrates Easter then one might as well also celebrate the Easter Bunny, because they are both made of the same whole cloth.

Some of those who have engaged in that kind of disdain proudly declare their atheism.  One such individual declares his bona fides with pride:  raised in a religious household, a nominally religious person is finally able, through the powers of his reasoning and intellect, to determine the travesty of religious belief and the falsehood of the Christian faith.  This is not a unique approach and people like this individual wield their I-was-once-like-you life story like a weapon, confident that given the right set of circumstances they can deliver the death stroke to the faith of any individual.  While I am quite certain that there are holes in this person’s understanding of Christianity and the logic that he claims to have used to reach his atheistic beliefs, I do admire him for his certitude and tenacity.

But what I have wondered about for some time is that this person and others like him seem to miss out on an aspect of the Christian faith that is at the core of what we believe…and that is the idea of relationship. At the heart of Christianity is a belief in relationship between the highest of the high and the lowest of the low, a belief in love and sacrifice that transcends everything else.  Many atheists that I have talked with over the years disregard the idea of “relationship” as being intellectually dishonest.  As one guy that I used to work with put it 20+ years ago, “So  you’re telling me that Christianity is the search for the ultimate, cosmic best friend.”  Nothing like reducing something to the absurd!  My response was that he was partly right.  The idea of relationship in a close friendship is key, but the stronger image is the one of relationship in a marriage in which one is willing to love and cherish the other no matter what, and in which one is willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the other person’s benefit.

Which brings me to Part Three of Spiritual Contrasts/Juxtapositions.  This time around…the contrast between distance/dispassion and relationship.

The first time I read Søren Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, I was a freshman in college taking an Intro to Philosophy class.  I was amazed at reading the thoughts of a man who could so beautifully articulate the deep truths of faith and reason and meld them together in such an elegant way.  His parable of the King and the Maiden is a fantastic example of this elegance of form and function, of expressing the Truth of Faith within the framework of reason.

As with a few of the other pieces I am using in this series, I adapted Kierkegaard’s story for my church a couple years ago for an Easter service.  We did not end up using The King and the Humble Maiden in that Easter service, but perhaps it will be useful to illustrate my point now…

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The King and Humble Maiden (adapted from Søren Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments)

PREFACE:  There once lived a people who had a profound understanding of the divine.  This people thought that no one could see God and live.  Who grasps this contradiction of sorrow – Not to reveal oneself is the death of love, but to reveal oneself is the death of the beloved.

There once was a king who loved a humble maiden.  This king was of uncommon royal lineage.  He was a king above kings, with power and might to make all others humble before him.  Statesmen trembled at his pronouncements.   None dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all who opposed him.  The wealth of his holdings was unfathomable.  Tribute arrived on a daily basis from lesser kings who hoped to gain his favor.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in the poorest village of his vast kingdom.  He longed to go to this maiden and announce his love for her, but here arose the king’s dilemma:  How should he declare his love?  Certainly, he could appear before her resplendent in his royal robes and surrounded with the Royal Guard, ready to carry her away in a carriage inlaid with gold and precious stones.  He could bring her to the palace and crown her head with jewels and clothe her in the finest silks.  She would surely not resist this type of proposal, for no one dared to resist the king in all his majesty.

But would she love him?

She might say she loved him.  She might be awed by his royal splendor and tremble at the thought of being blessed with such an amazing opportunity.  She might tell herself that she would be foolish to reject such a marriage proposal. But would she love him or would she go through the motions and put forth an appearance of love all the while living a life of empty duty, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind?  Would she love him or regret the moment of being face to face with the overwhelming grandeur of the king?

Or would she be happy at his side, loving him for himself and not for his title or riches or power?

He did not want a wife who behaved as a subject to his royal decrees, cringing at his word and unwilling to do anything but agree with all he said and did.  Instead, he wanted an equal, a queen whose love knew no restrictions or limitations.  He wanted an equal whose voice would speak to him at all times without hesitation.  Love with his beloved maiden must mean equality with her.  He wanted a relationship with the woman that had neither barriers nor walls, a relationship in which he was not a king and she was not a poor subject of the crown.  The love that could be shared by them needed to bridge the chasm that threatened to keep them apart, bringing the king and peasant together and making the unequal equal.  In short, he wanted the maiden to love him for himself and not for any other reason.

He had to find a way to win the maiden’s love without overwhelming her and without destroying her free will to choose.  The king realized that to win the maiden’s love, he had only one choice.  He had to become like her, without power or riches and without the title of king.  Only then would she be able to see him simply for who he was and not for what his position made him.  He had to become her equal, and to do this he must leave all that he had behind.

And so one night, after all within the castle were asleep, he laid aside his golden crown and removed his rings of state.  He took off his royal robes of silk and linen and redressed himself in the common clothes of the poorest of the kingdom.  Leaving by way of the servant’s entrance, the king left his crown, his castle, and all the power and splendor of his kingdom behind.  As the next day’s sun rose in the east, the maiden emerged from her humble cottage to find herself face to face with a stranger, a common man with kindly eyes who requested an opportunity to speak with her and, in time, to ask for her hand in marriage.

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So if there IS a god, and if this god wanted relationship over subjugation, is there some OTHER way in which a relationship could be established between the mortal and the divine?

Spiritual Contrasts – Part One

Spiritual Contrasts – Part Two

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