Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Death of Dust

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine

We never seem to believe the Word of God. We are told, “Those who hate Me love death” and we pat God on the back for the lovely metaphor. Next we conclude that those green haired kids with the needles in their faces, in the big city, they certainly hate God. And finally we nod our head that yes indeed those who hate Him will be unhappy in hell for a long time. God did indeed write poetically when He coined those words. But such doesn’t mean He didn’t mean it. Who, first, are those who hate Him? We are, by nature children of wrath. Those who hate Him are not merely the flamboyant sinners, but all those as yet untouched by His redeeming grace. All those who fit in this category not only are due death, not only face death, not only will live in eternal death unless reborn, but, as the text tells us, love death. They love it, embrace it, bath in it and dine on it.

There is an important linguistic connection between culture and dirt, and, not coincidentally, worship. Culture-cultivate-cult. See? It all involves the same thing, the exercise of dominion. Culture, as we have noted before, is religion, or cultus, externalized. It is taking from the dirt and making gifts for our god, whether that god is our Maker or is made by us, and whether those gifts are the eggs we eat for breakfast, or the bread and wine we consume at His table. The cruel truth, at least to those who hate Him, is that even their labors in turn become His. They build houses that we live in, and tend vineyards whose wine we drink.

Which is why their hatred is so tightly linked to death. They cannot ultimately escape the claims of God on their labor by building Babel. If they build it, He will come, and make it a footstool for His comfort. In the end, all they can do is destroy. In the end they cannot replace life with false life, but must replace it with death. Sartre was dead wrong when he suggested that the only real question left was death. What he meant was that death was the only remaining answer.

But even suicide isn’t enough. For when our bodies return to the dust, in the economy of God they feed the life around them. So death requires not only that we shed our own lives, but that we destroy the very fecundity of the dirt, that we sterilize reality until it too dies. Consider the vision of science fiction writers. While there are exceptions, isn’t it odd that the future worlds we are treated too often exhibit a sparseness that bespeaks sterility? Men and women dress like one another. Children are neither seen nor heard. But worse still, the ground is the consistency of fine powder, a dust that gives no life. Once we’re inside, everything is polished chrome. The future’s so bright, I must have been spayed.

In what is perhaps the greatest science fiction novel ever written, C.S. Lewis makes much the same point. That Hideous Strength, the final installment of his space trilogy, includes a fascinating conversation about the battle being waged on the moon. The gleeful Filistrato explains to the incredulous Mark,
“‘Oh, si, intelligent life. Under the surface. A great race, further advanced than we…They have cleaned their world, broken free (almost) from the organic…They are almost free of Nature, attached to her only by the thinnest, finest cord.’
‘Do you mean that all that,’ Mark pointed to the mottled globe of the Moon, ‘is their own doing?’
‘Why not? If you remove all the vegetation, presently you have not atmosphere, no water.’
‘But what was the purpose?’
‘Hygiene. Why should they have their world all crawling with organisms? And specially, they would banish one organism. Her surface is not all you see. There are still surface-dwellers—savages. One great dirty patch on the far side of her where there is still water and air and forests—yes, and germs and death. They are slowly spreading their hygiene over their whole globe. Disinfecting her…This Institute—Dio meo, it is for something better than housing and vaccinations and faster trains and curing people of cancer. It is for the conquest of death: or for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are the same thing…Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by, now we kick her away.’”

This love of death drives the world around us to the fruitless madness of sodomy. It causes them to devour their young through abortion. And, even in the evangelical church, it leads us to poison the ground where our own children might have grown. It is why their entertainment traffics in wanton destruction, and why those children who do survive their tour of duty in the womb gun down their enemies, either in their X-box, or in their school hallway. It is why they mar and disfigure their own bodies, their ever present reminder of the life they hate. It is why they embrace their soma of choice. Ecstasy’s just another word for a temporary snooze.

To be counter-cultural, once again, doesn’t mean wearing the death shroud so that we can fit in. Such merely hides our life under a bushel. Rather let us be a bunch of dirty Christians, a people who are so connected with Him who is the life, that our life shines before men. Let us be a people who have not only succumbed to fecundity, but embraced it, in our homes, in our gardens, at our tables. Let us eat the fat of the land. Let the aroma of our feast drown out the smell of death that surrounds them. Let us cultivate a culture of dirt, of life. This is how we fight our war, by digging our trenches, and there in faith planting the seed. We fight death with life, knowing with joy that death will indeed be swallowed up in victory.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

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