Monday, March 15, 2010

Internet Monk and cancer

This is, for those who are familiar with his work, not exactly new news. He has cancer and the news is that he has maybe a few months to live.

This year has already been a year in which I have become acutely aware of death and failure (which are not things I was particularly unaware of before, just in case anyone was wondering). I have been trying and failing in my job hunt for nearly half a year now. I discovered that an old high school associate has come down with cancer. Another person I was acquainted with just after my college days was murdered by her stalker. So I am more than a little acquainted with the reality that even in the midst of life we face death.

I know iMonk is going to die, possibly even before the year is out. I trust the Lord has him in His hands. I have no problem praying the Lord would be gracious enough to heal him of this sickness even as I myself have had family praying for me for decades to be healed of a physical condition that has never actually improved and at one point got catastrophically worse. That Christ Himself prayed in the garden a prayer that was given a resounding 'no' that sent Him to the Cross means I do not have to feel bad praying that the Father would intervene even in a case that is utterly hopeless. As the three young men said, "We are confident that God will deliver us yet even if He does not we will not bow down before that idol." There are reasons that the Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, even those Gentiles and Jews who, as it were, are within the Christian faith.

What I have most appreciated about Michael's blogging is that he has found ways to articulate what it looks like to be the professing Christian who, nevertheless, when confronted with who Christ is finds His actual teaching to be foolishness or a stumbling block. I have respected him for being able to criticize even those teachers and preachers he respects.

I've never met the man. We've traded emails a handful of times over the years and he is at least acquainted with some people I know, but I have benefited a great deal from his writing over the years. Thanks to a link he posted I found a church in Seattle I have been attending after a significant crisis in my life about where exactly I would fellowship. A friend had advised me around that general period to not leave merely out of dissatisfaction but that if the Lord opens up a positive direction forward (as He did for a friend of mine) that that was a great reason to move into a new direction. Thanks to a link from iMonk, that positive new direction materialized when I heard a sermon that helped me better understand one of the psalms and to have a clear sense of a place where scripture was taught in a way that reached me in areas where I am weak. I have iMonk to thank for that, even though we've never met and at best are merely strangers who have traded a handful of emails.

At some point we all struggle with whether or not the Lord is good, if we are Christians. It is not merely inevitable it is a necessary part of the journey of faith. If we never doubt whether or not God is for us and have no pangs of conscious then how certain can we really be the Lord is actually for us, He who died for our sins out of love? Michael wrote clearly and succinctly about those sorts of struggles, and also wrote clearly and succinctly about how in many ways American evangelicals invite resentment and distrust because we are the Pharisees that we claim to not be like. We are the Sadducees who have traded in the eruptive power of Yahweh for a settled society that gives us what we want and the stability and prosperity we lean on as a gift of God given to those who are wise and prudent. This quality in us is so pernicious we can embrace it fully while being certain we are NOT exemplifying it. We are, like Peter, apt to say "though all others desert you, Lord, I will not forsake you." Michael has done a good job of writing about what it is like to be Peter and to discover that you are not as faithful to the Lord as you imagined you would be.

When Christ comes to you having gone to the cross you have the opportunity to run from Christ or to run to Him. What I have always appreciated about Michael's writing is that he lays out that stark set of options and has always urged people to run to Christ and not from Him. It can be easy to find yourself effectively saying "No" to Christ because of the sinners He keeps company with. This is especially true for those who have been hurt by churches, who would sooner live their lives in a bar picking up people than to set foot in a church after the things they have been hurt by.

It could have been an opportunity for Michael to say something like, "you cannot have God as your father unless you call the Church your mother". He has not, by and large, said that. The mother of God's people is so far from perfection that many of the debates about the Bride more or less center on which limb is less gangrenous than the other! God's bride (Israel) is depicted as a cheating whore who goes so far as to PAY others so that she can commit adultery. That is a bad and pathetic prostitute indeed who has to pay her customers to use her. That is who the Bride of Christ is, ourselves who are being redeemed by Christ from that impulse, from that embrace of death as life.

Michael has, I believe, done an effective job of reminding those of us who are Christians that we badly need the savior we often present as not having so badly been needed. He has been effective in arguing that in many cases we in the Church present ourselves as the mediator of Christ whle little realizing how badly we need Christ to mediate for us, not the other way around. We have often been the very obstacles to Christ that have been stumbling blocks to those who would otherwise come to Him and yet we feel ourselves to be persecuted because of an often listless and lacklustre faith. For all these things I have appreciated Michael's persistence even when he wrote things I didn't agree with or just found a bit dull. I kept returning and keep returning to his blog because his passion for Christ is indisputable.

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