A New Year’s Resolution on Creatureliness and Limits
One of my favorite tweets around New Year’s was this one by Joe Carter:
So good. Sometimes it’s hard to tell satire from reality, and Joe’s tweet is a good ribbing at the way we often think as we enter a brand new year.
Be careful, though, what you read and experience. It will mess with your awesomeness. I woke up in the middle of the night last night and read a passage from Michael Pollan’s book Cooked. I couldn’t have read a worse portion of the book for bedtime reading. “Consider, just for a moment, the everyday proximity of death,” I read. Okay. Then this:
We, too, carry around invisible microbial shadows: the Brevibacterium breeding in the saline damp between our toes, or the enterococci lurking in the coiled dark of the intestine. Everything that lives, it seems, must play host to the germ of its own dissolution. Whether a fungus or a bacterium, these invisibles come wielding precisely the right kit of enzymes to take apart, molecule by molecule, life’s most intricate structures, reducing them, ourselves included, to simple foods for themselves and other living and incipient beings.
Nice. Oh, and have a good sleep.
Then this morning while walking my dog he collapsed for a minute and lay on the ground as if dead. He seems mostly fine now, but it was strange and scary.
And then this morning I read from Zack Eswine’s excellent book Sensing Jesus, in which he quotes Archibald Alexander writing of himself near the end of his life: “He [Alexander] feels he must shortly relinquish, not only his pen, but all earthly labors; and, therefore, he leaves this work to be performed by some other person.” Eswine comments:
To relinquish; to admit that some dreams are presumptuous; to acknowledge that some needs outlast me; to recognize my inability to fully supply what is lacking; to admit that I am limited; to say no to competition with brothers and sisters, and to give to others what I strongly desired for myself; and in it all to still take up the pen or give voice to preach Jesus— these indicate a surrender to noble limits.
To summarize: you carry on you the bacteria that will take you apart when you die. Your dog may collapse and die today. And you must realize that many of your dreams are presumptuous, and the needs you’re trying to meet will outlast you. Happy New Year!
All of this could sound depressing, but look at it a different way.
At the beginning of a new year, it is not my goal to be awesome. It shouldn’t be yours either. We are here for a short while. We are not the Savior of anything. There are needs that we can’t meet, and there are things that we can’t control. We are limited at best, and dependent on God’s good grace every moment of every year.
Depressing? Only to the extent that we’ve lost sight of reality. These truths are actually freeing when we understand them. It’s especially freeing because all of these realities are met in God, and more. God is awesome. He needs no resolutions. He is the Savior of everything. There are no needs that exceed his ability; he is eternal and he withholds nothing good from his children. Even death, which is not good, has been overcome. Everything sad will become untrue. And I am here, now, to enjoy what he’s given me, with the hope that there is even more for me when I’m gone.
If I have a New Year’s Resolution, it’s not to be awesome. It’s to rediscover my creatureliness and limits, and to rediscover God’s awesomeness and the richness of his grace.
So far I’m off to a good start. Dragging a limp dog across the road sure seems to help. But if I finish the year more aware of who I am, and who God is, then it will have been a year spent in the best possible way.