Monday, 27 November 2006

gloom and finitude

There is no doubt that melancholy has tremendous power to affect me. But, before I rush to have myself diagnosed as suffering from depression, I need to remind myself that things beyond my control in the created order have the effect of lifting my spirits as well as dampening them. A short walk with Kate in the grey late morning, ending with a swing in the local park as the sun came out and all the gold of Autumn revealed itself, was enough to correct the emotional low that hit me earlier (probably some sort of winding down from a busy and satisfying weekend).

Finitude is one of these double-edged swords. What a cause of frustration and sorrow that I cannot know everything (even though I thirst after knowledge, foolishly, given that the more knowledge, the more grief), cannot rely on myself to act justly and generously in all situations (even though I am a New Creation), cannot play Chopin's Cello Sonata perfectly (which would be nice), fail in my responsibilities, slack off at work... (So I hated life, because the work that was done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind...)

But what a relief that I am finite - that I can know the joy of relating to others who are not under my control (not that I am under my own control), who can surprise me and enrich me. Most of all, of course, I am liberated from the burden of having to be God. Those who acknowledge no higher authority and being than themselves must surely struggle with that. Instead, I can rightly enjoy what He has given me, in the context of His loving care and His narration of the great story of history - the salvation of sinners who cannot save themselves.

One message of Ecclesiastes, from which I quoted above, is surely to be found on the face of the text. This book is part of the 'Wisdom Literature' of the Old Testament, and has long puzzled Jewish and Christian commentators. After a long introduction testing different approaches to life (pursuit of wisdom, pleasure, power), the Teacher says...

So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him? (3:22)

'SO' is the key. Because of our finitude, we are thrown onto God (I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him, 3:14) and we are freed to enjoy the creation around us, and to take pleasure in relationships and the natural world. But this can only happen when we live our lives under God, rather than under the sun (a repeated phrase in Ecclesiastes that sums up the attitude that denies God). It is only then that we see that finitude is not a curse, though we experience much weariness and sorrow now, but something that constitutes us as persons - in relationship to our Creator and in relationship to people around us.