Sunday, January 13, 2008

Number 7: Age


I am getting married in 7 days. I'm 35 years old.

I've been consciously as well as eagerly ready to be married since I was 25. I had no idea back then I'd have to wait this long. It really chew me up for a long time, especially around the 30 mark. Most of my peers were married with children and I'd never get to share with them the same season of family life, not in the way you experience it with a couple whose children are in the same season as yours.

I asked God why. Why am I waiting? What am I being made to wait for? Is there something wrong with me? Am I an especially stubborn coot? I know I'm demanding. I keep high expectations for myself and others. If it's worth doing it's worth doing well (not badly). And my tastes and interests are omnivorous.

So my greatest fear has been of being bored. I remember in college looking with excitement on a career in the foreign service because I knew I couldn't possibly be bored, not when they shuttled you around the world every 2 to 5 years.

The fear transfers to my longing for a wife.

Then one day, say around 32, I woke up and stopped asking why. I lay in bed and saw a 1 and a 0 floating over my head. It was simple: either I trusted God or I didn't. Yes or no. (Or mostly yes or mostly no.) It was one thing for me to be engaging in gross sin or wasting away my life in frivolous, self-indulgent activities. That, I figured, would make it twice as hard for God to accomplish his purposes in me. Why push his buttons needlessly. I really did want to cooperate.

But still, nothing. There were relationships, yes, and with each one I learned. I learned often the hard way. But eventually I got sick of hearing this statement: "But David, just think how this experience is preparing you for marriage." Good God, I thought, I'm going to be the most prepared bachelor for marriage--ever. I'll be so prepared I'll simply osmose into nuptial happiness.

At what point do you stop paying attention to these amazing preparatory, sanctifying, humbling and humiliating experiences and go, "Folks, that's just life. You mess up, you learn, you grow up, you keep going. But not everything has to become THE AMAZING CONSOLATION OF AN AMAZINGLY HARD EXPERIENCE THAT IS AMAZINGLY GETTING YOU READY FOR YOUR AMAZING FUTURE SPOUSE."

That kind of thinking makes you really wacked out.

All of a sudden the sole purpose of life--yea, the chief end of man--is to find that wife. And in the desperate search for the wife, with the help of all the nosy babushkas, there is no God. There is only a capricious, inscrutable Divine Being who doesn't really have your welfare in mind. If the main or sole purpose in life is to find a wife, all the theological affirmations of Genesis notwithstanding, then we no longer have orthodox Christianity, we have quite frankly the trinity of life, liberty and the pursuit of (my) happiness.

I think the other place in my brain that I got screwed up about was what exactly Jesus meant when he said he came to give us eternal life. You see, in my mind getting married meant that a) I could have a companion for life, b) I could have safe sex and then wonderful sex and then also lots of sex, c) I could bear children, and d) I could join the club of humanity that has been happily forming families for millenia.

But well, you say, What's wrong with that list? It looks good. It looks biblical. And you're right. It does. By itself it's all very fine: companionship, sexual intimacy, a quiver-full of blessedness, and social belonging and procreational obedience. It's great.

But the heresy in my list lay within the crevasses. The heresy was this: David, your experience of a truly fulfilled happy life can only take place while you're on earth. Once you die, that's it. That's it. Then it's done. Then it's all choir-practice, white robe large gatherings (are they see-through? do we wear underwear?), everlasting gregorian chants, looking dreamily at the crystal sea but never swimming in it, and hoping you really don't get bored or get caught looking bored or staring out the window while you hear the frightening Kreature-Beasts sing holy, holy, holy for the 182 quadrillionth time.

When you die, David, there is no companionship with the wife. There's no sex. There's no bearing of children And by that time we're all one big happy family. We're the same.

You see? We're the same. Ugh. Let's call that the heresy of dodgy vanilla pudding sameness. Heaven is a place where everything is static and spiritually plastic. Everything I love--smoothies, leather satchels, habanero hot sauce from South Africa, the volcanoes in Guatemala, running 5ks and swimming laps at the local pool, Golden Grahams, afternoon siestas, writing historical fiction plays, sitting around with friends playing cards, drinking wine and laughing our heads off, modern dance, belching, mowing my lawn, kissing on the lips, the national German soccer team, riding up the elevator in skyscrapers, running a film festival, learning languages, listening to the silence of my house at 3 AM, cranking up the speakers when the hip hop station plays, writing sermons, so on and so on--ceases when I die.

That's it. Then it's just heavenly stuff that honestly doesn't look all that interesting. And I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Glorification is a great thing.

But practically, and if the predominant Christian way of thinking about heaven is correct, then I need to get with it. Live it up. Do all the fun, satisfying earth stuff while I can. Get married as early as possible, have kids, get good jobs, acquire hobbies, serve the community, drink good coffee and hope you have enough of a retirement fund to not live a sucky elderly life.

So to summarize: If a) the sole purpose in life is to find a wife and b) heaven is when all the fun earthy stuff stops, then at 35 I'm almost screwed. Just barely not screwed. Very nearly, most probably screwed. If I start having kids fast enough, I won't be ancient by the time they reach college. I may even have strength to out-wrestle my grandkids. Maybe.

The heresy, then, is actually two-headed: "Can you really trust God with your life?" (with implied answer: in actual fact no) and "Earth life is when all the good, colorful, relationally and vocationally and aesthetically and culinarily satisfying stuff happens" (and so by implication: heaven is boring and utterly unlike anything you'll ever know on earth.).

I've come to think differently. I figure now that if God is good, powerful and wise, and I really believe that he is, then I can trust him with my life, the empirical data, specifically what I see and what I feel, notwithstanding. I don't have to know why God has allowed me to wait to 35. I can simply trust that he honestly does have better ideas than I about my life; that in fact it will be better than I could ask for or imagine on my own engineering.

Lastly, I have decided that all that is good on earth will be carried over into our heavenly existence, and there it will be even better. I've also chucked once and for all my dating relationship with gnosticism.

Heaven is not ghostland. Heaven is the realm where the effective will of God is always done, thank you Dallas Willard. In the end he will create a new heaven and a new earth. All will be redeemed. My smoothies will be redeemed. And hip hop will be redeemed. And I will commit to train--yes, train--to run a marathon. And spend as long as it will take me to learn Latin. So I can talk to old church fathers.

I'm getting married in seven days to Phaedra Jean Wendler. I'm 35 and so be it.

It is very good.

4 comments:

livingpalm said...

ENJOY!

ceciliabrie said...

whew. good thing you didn't have to wait until *45*! what kind of crazy kook of a girl would you have been able to find at THAT age??? ;)

edtsch said...

:D

messenjah101 said...

Yes, gnosticism kind of destroys any hope of a joyful future, doesn't it?

I'd suggest reading "Heaven" by Dr. Randy Alcorn. While some of what he says is speculative, he has a very thorough summary of what the Bible says about Heaven. He's ambiguous in some things (the millennial kingdom, for example), but for the most part he really seems to know his stuff.