Wednesday, August 15, 2018

giving infinitely

Finite Anxiety: Or, A Quick Biblical Guide on Gift-Receiving

In general, I am always slightly panicked about the akedah. I sit around wondering what whats and whos will be my Isaacs, eventually demanded from me by a God who will not rest until I place my happiness in the divine alone. But it is so easy—so easy and so terrible—to turn gifts into idols, and then you’ve lost them anyway. Gifts are sustainable and sustained—idols are anxiety, which must eventually crumble beneath the force of a love that will not even brook the separation of death. Having spoiled sprincipalities and powers, as Paul writes, Christ not only conquers but mocks these false securities which dominate our human lives. If we happen to stretch out our Midas hands and turn the love which runs to greet us into gold, we have doomed that love to die.

To grasp at what was going to be given as a gift is the primordial sin and the fundamental human temptation. To grasp is to deprive ourselves of the joy inherent in the love in the first place. To grasp is to let it slip out of our fingers, to turn the beauty of the gift into the cold death of the idol. Can I imagine Abraham’s temptation? I think, on my way out of the powder room. Here is the child so long longed-for. Here is the fruit of his loins, at last! How quickly—almost instantaneously—we forget that the products of our efforts are not ours, but the contingent gift of a thousand different coincidences. Luck is a creditor so easily neglected. We recognize the necessity of fortune, but give her none of her due. How easily the gift of a son must have been turned into the prize of his own righteousness.

What a god-awful religion, I think, that demands such a sacrifice. Surrender all you have to God? What is the morality in that? Possessions, sure, I understand that. But people are not made to be returned. People are not the sort of entity to whom you casually remark: yes, I love you, but I love God more, so you know, I have to get rid of you. Unfortunate, isn’t it that I am so holy that it gives me the prerogative to act like a prick? Rather hard, yes, of course for you but incredibly convenient for me. My condolences. Humans are not our possessions, that we can dispose of us as we deem prudent and necessary.

What a stupid bind of morality: give up a human person—who is fundamentally made for holding onto? Or to lose them in the rust of your own selfish, prideful grasp upon them? How does one constantly rediscover gifts as given?

I exit the church, and come face-to-face with a stone image of a God whose back—for the moment—is turned to me.

He gets him back.

You goose, he gets him back.

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