Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Klavan Catechism

From the 2016 memoir The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, by Andrew Klavan:

The fact was, as a story -- even leaving out the supernatural, especially leaving out the supernatural, taking it all as metaphor, I mean -- the Bible made perfect sense to me from the very beginning.

I saw a God whose nature was creative love. He made man in his own image for the purpose of forming new and free relationships with him. But in his freedom, man turned away from that relationship to consult his own wisdom and desires. The knowledge of good and evil was not some top-secret catalog of nice and naughty acts that popped into Eve's mind when a talking snake got her to eat the magic fruit. The knowledge was built into the action of disobedience itself: it's what she learned when she overruled the moral law God had placed within her. There was no going back from that. The original sin poisoned all history. History's murders, rapes, wars, oppressions, and injustices are not the inescapable plot of the story we're in.

The Old Testament traces one complete cycle of that history; one people's rise and fall. This particular people is unique only in that they're the ones who begin to remember what man was made for. Moses' revelation at the burning bush is as profound as any religious scene in literature. There, he sees that the eternal creation and destruction of nature is not a mere process but the mask of a personal spirit, I AM THAT I AM. The centuries that follow that revelation are a spiraling semicircle of sin and shame and redemption, of freedom recovered and then surrendered in return for imperial greatness, of a striving for righteousness through law that reveals only the impossibility of righteousness, of power and pride and fall. It's every people's history, in other words, but seen anew in the light of the fire of I AM.

It made sense to me too -- natural sense, not supernatural -- that after that history was complete, a man might be born who could comprehend it wholly and re-create within himself the relationship at its source. His mind would contain both man and God. It made sense that the creatures of sin and history -- not the Jews alone but all of us -- would conspire in such a man's judicial murder. Jesus had to die because we had to kill him. It was either that or see ourselves by his light, as the broken things we truly are. It's only from God's point of view that this is a redeeming sacrifice. By living on earth in Jesus, by entering history, by experiencing death, by passing through that moment of absolute blackness when God is forsaken by God, God reunites himself with his fallen creation and reopens the path to the relationship lost in Eden. Jesus' resurrection is the final proof that no matter how often we kill the truth of who we're meant to be, it never dies.

[That summary right there is worth the price of the book, I think]. 

But there's more:

For years, maybe most of my life, I had languished in that typical young intellectual's delusion that gloom and despair are the romantic lot of the brilliant and the wise. But now I saw: it wasn't so. Why should it be? What sort of wisdom has no joy in it? What good is wisdom without joy? By joy I don't mean ceaseless happiness, of course. I don't mean willed stupidity for the sake of a cheap smile. The world is sad and it is suffering. A tragic sense is essential to both realism and compassion. By joy I mean a vital love of life in both sorrow and gladness. Why not? The hungry can't eat your tears. The poor can't spend them. They're no comfort to the afflicted and they don't bring the wicked to justice. Everything useful that can be done in the world can be done in joy.

Klavan's insight summoned a song for me. 

The  "Nazareth" that Robbie Robertson of  The Band was writing about pulling into "half past dead" was Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of the Martin Guitar company. But we all know which Nazarene put the original town in Judea on the proverbial map. And I don't think it coincidental that the refrain of  "The Weight" is deliberately redemptive: "Take a load off, Annie" [or Fannie, if you sing it that way]. Take a load for free!

If you take a load off, what are you supposed to do with it? Jesus is the man who stepped up to say "You put the load right on me!"  Moreover, he volunteered for that.

The best kind of Christian music is stealthy Christian music. Ol' Luke ain't the only one "waitin' on Judgement Day." [Remember the stream of pilgrims going "down to the river to pray" in O Brother Where Art Thou, or Jake and Elwood Blues putting the band back together because they were "on a mission from God"? Remember the question about "Will the Circle be Unbroken" by and by, or Rick Beato pointing out that U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" has gospel music phrasing in it?].

It's not too much of a hop from "The Weight" to C.S. Lewis and what he wrote about "The Weight of Glory." Think of the same theme in two different keys. But as the Klavan excerpt (and the harmony between Levon Helm and Mavis Staples in their live recording) makes clear, the Chronicles of Narnia author wasn't the only one "surprised by joy." 

While I'm on a roll, let me drag J.R.R. Tolkien up to the bar so he can help me make the argument from Middle Earth that Frodo and Sam and the other hobbits were invited into the Fellowship of the Ring not merely for their humility, but also because the most obvious characteristic of hobbitry (hobbitdom?) is joy (in contrast to the fragile valor of the humans, the cultivated detachment of the elves, the pugnaciousness of the dwarves, and the wisdom of wizards). 

The Fellowship needed joy, which I think is why Tolkien inserted two "spare" hobbits into it for a total of four, and no more than two representatives of any other free race among the nine heroes. As Saint Paul had before them, Tolkien and Lewis saw joy as a hallmark of the Christian life. 

It's inspiring to see a contemporary thriller writer like Andrew Klavan wrestle his way into the same insight, and then surrender to it.

1 comment:

  1. What outstanding connections and truly great insight made here....Thank You!