Columnists > Voices

Heavenly free-fall

What would happen if we trusted enough in God to plunge into a certain kind of self-forgetfulness?

Issue: "One nation under God," June 26, 2004

It's clear that we're all too busy to bother much with each other. I'm too busy for you and you're too busy for me. I have my "excuse note": four kids, two jobs, one mortgage, and severe personal limitations. You have your own excuses.

I just read in my morning devotions about Timothy: "I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:20-21). I find this mildly annoying. I need to seek my own interests. There are only so many thoughts one can allow to crowd one's brain, and the Lord commands us to provide for our own households. Yadda-yadda-yadda.

I see in the papers there was a murder-suicide in North Philadelphia (the prod for this essay): A 34-year-old man came into work and shot the secretary, whom he had been dating. Who the heck knows that story chapter and verse? Who was in on the months of missteps that led off that particular cliff? Who paid any attention? Count on it, your workplace is a clutch of separate souls, each hermetically sealed in his and her own private terror. We all come in google-eyed in the last act, rubbernecking the strewn bodies. I hope there were no Christians in that office.

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But there were Christians in the case of the teacher in the local Christian school who had a year-long affair with another teacher. He was an elder on top of it, under particular care of the session, one would presume. To make it worse, his wife had two years earlier come to the senior pastor complaining about her husband. But hey, who doesn't have complaints about her husband? I suppose the pastor, after wifey's visit, inquired of the elder, in passing, how things were going at home; and the elder said fine; and that was the end of that. I would have done the same thing.

Life in our century is too busy for anything but lick-and-promise relationship. So then, logically speaking, either God has commanded, in Philippians 2, something we are unable to do, or we shall have to go back to the drawing board and brainstorm.

As an opening kick of the can, let me admit that I always get this far in my complaint and then it dawns on me: There is something disingenuous about my jabbering. It is not as if I have, in a paraphrase of Philippians 3:16, ever "lived up to the knowledge I have already attained." Had I but done that, being obedient all along in the little choices that lead to other little choices, who knows but that my eye would not be so murky now?

What would a person find (let us indulge in a momentary flight of imagination, a risky and questionably orthodox foray into parallel universes) if he or she lived entirely differently? If rather than preconceiving the Christian life as a program, he were to yield his life, one moment at a time, to the prompting of the Spirit (through the Word)? If he were to overthrow all self-protection and err on the side of love of neighbor, trusting God to take care of him as he plunged into a certain kind of self-forgetfulness? If he embraced the free-fall of a life without a preset program, without a preconception of the ends? (I have just described the genius of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and radical Christian existentialism as laid out in The Cost of Discipleship.)

The answer, of course, is a matter of historical record: That way of living leads to a crucifixion or the gallows as like as to a bigger house in the 'burbs. It is a way of living I have personally not had the courage to live but which I recognize as a recipient: About 12 years ago I pretty much had the wind knocked out of me, but was not so out of it as not to notice Donna coming up alongside-standing in a parking lot with me till the sun sank, phone counseling for hours on end, postponing who knows what agenda for weeks. I know little of her life before or since, but it matters not to me: Donna did a very fine thing back then. And it alone may carry more weight in the last day than my 52 years end to end.

It is an extraordinary person who will buck his own culture-who will even see his own culture-and will step off the treadmill for another's rescue, choosing free-fall over safety. May you have such a friend in your life. May you be one.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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