The Matchbook Diaries

Love’s Hold versus Evil’s Hand

Several decades ago, in a dream, I summoned the devil.  The devil answered my summons with slavish obedience, appearing at light speed.  I was stunned.  I sent the spirit away.  But then, in that same dream, a moment later, I summoned the devil again, and a second time the same reply occurred.  I realized, in that moment, during my dream that real evil was at my command.  I sent the spirit away, not a little dazed by my power.  Yet, unwilling to relent from my rage in the dream, I summoned the devil a third time. (I don’t even know what I hated in that moment.  The object was of little matter; the point of the rage was to maneuver me to do exactly I was doing – summoning evil.)  At that point I woke myself up keenly aware of the mortal danger I was truly facing.  It wasn’t just a dream.  If in my waking I command evil, it will appear; it’s nothing special, you just have to be willing to trade your soul.

In My Upmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes, “We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do.  We cannot save or sanctify ourselves – God does that.  But God will not give us good habits…and…will not force us to walk correctly.  We have to do all that ourselves….Beware of the tendency to ask the way when you know it perfectly well…Be determined to act immediately in faith on what God says to you and…never reconsider or change your initial decisions.  If you hesitate, you are being careless.”

I don’t have trouble jumping in; it plays to my strengths to be reckless.  I’ve taken shocking sharp turns countless times.  Usually I’m sure if God speaks or if something else is talking to me, but in times of tremendous duress, I pause.  If I hear that crystal clear, simple voice, I move ahead, but if I deliberately hesitate and I hear nothing, then I leave that action to the side, though my mind and heart routinely return to it, sniffing around, perplexed, “Am I meant to act on this?….”  In those moments I must not act.  When I face excessive pressure I’m as equally likely to flee as I am to counterattack, yet there are not just 2 ways to solve a problem.  There are infinite solutions.  One of evil’s great tricks is to narrow it down to black and white  – to squeeze a problem into two extreme choices, both of which are perversely gratifying and neither of which are good for me.

When I am angry or afraid, I want rescue, to be “saved”.  That comforting hand that shoots out of the darkness, however, is no friend of mine.  It is almost certainly evil.  Evil frequently uses “help” to control human beings.  The devil is impotent; without our compliance, the devil has no power.  The surest sign of God’s omnipotence is God’s surrender of it.  Only God has omnipotence, and only God can therefore surrender it.  God could compel us, but won’t.  Almost all intensely comforting gestures of assistance and rescue, from personal to corporate, are evil, and all of them are powerless.

Here’s the secret – it’s not the situation itself that needs to be altered, it’s me.  Almost never am I facing an utterly intractable problem.  I can run from, or wage war with, the problem.  I can do that.  But I won’t be able to fix the core issue that way.  The means for my security are internal, not external.  It’s is almost never money, physical surroundings, or specific people who are impossible to fix.  It is almost always some problem in my own heart I refuse to acknowledge and from such a thing only I can save myself with God’s mercy.  Of one thing, though, I can be certain: God isn’t going to swoop in and save me from myself.  God says, Fix it.  I certainly can.  The question is, will I?

Beware of any person, any radical solution, any belief, any organization that purports to be your shelter, your best friend.  (In Wall-e, the post apocalyptic cartoon movie, the supreme ruler is the chain store that says, Buy N Large is Your VERY best friend!)  God is in the business of distributing power, not of showcasing it.  When something is quick to assert how strong and safe it is, be wary.  The devil is always in the business of possession and of exerting ownership because of course the devil owns none of us, is master of nothing, and rules a kingdom of death and dust.  The devil makes promises (and threats); God doesn’t do either.  God speaks without emphasis because God is God; no italics are needed (one of the side bennies of omnipotence).  The devil says, so reassuringly, Trust me.  God doesn’t argue along those lines and leaves the decision making to you without adding pressure.

One common thread in stories of good and evil is that Good always has a name and evil never does.   Evil is next to nothing, and, in the end, will be nothing – whenever you ask about evil, solid answers fall apart, because there is no reason, no depth.   Good gets more and more refined and exquisite the closer you look.  Look very, very closely at any hand offering “help” – will that new place, new lover, new job, new money, will that be the safe one?  No.  Safety cannot be grasped; we are not meant to expect nor are we reasonable to demand permanence and security.  We are designed to be incredibly agile, adept, exquisitely able to navigate the most staggeringly complex situations with beautiful grace that showcases our own talent and the love of God for us.

God makes God’s dwelling in my heart, and it is in my heart that I must shelter in place.  In my heart that I find sanctuary and security in the arms of God.  Externally I might be trembling with fear and standing all alone while an entire community accuses me of being crazy, but in my heart I feel the authentic connection that humbly but intractably insists that I am OK.  I’m not strong, but God is, and therefore I am also.  I am never alone, and neither is anyone else.  There is no place I can go to be safe or unsafe, there is only right now.

I wanted my version of justice in my dream, so I summoned evil.  I always want to respond forcefully to things that threaten me, but alas, this is reply is poison.   Evil is not inherent in me; it must be summoned.  Evil cannot impose itself; it has to be invited by me.  If I (or anyone) summon evil, I’ll be granted the most savory revenge on my current list of enemies, and for that delight I will pay forever.  Forever.  What I need is love.  I can have love and dignity and peace by seeking God with my whole heart.  I need not summon God because God is not apart from me.  If I choose hell, even there God lives in me, suffering alongside of me until such time as my life is tragically eradicated.

Justice we will all have and by the hand of God.  But I must be aware that as surely as I seek justice from my enemy, I also will be answerable for all I’ve done.

The errors that lead to such tricky situations begin with either a lust for revenge, which is my normal disposition, or, just as common, a sudden impulsive dart to “safety”.  Safety is not external.  It is not a place you can go.  In the fortress of rage or the fortress of fear are slaves cowering before the masters who promised vengeance or a life of comfort.  Of course no one but God can make such “promises” and God never will.  God does promise justice, as surely as God promises grace.  No one is capable of knowing what that actually means.

By the grace of God it is possible to step out of the spotlight of vengeance and terror.  I can shift ever so slightly to the side, to the edge of me, and listen to what I truly need, and I inevitably find that it is love, tenderness, touch, and humanity.  None of these is in a package, none of it costs money, and no one and no place offering true love will ever use control and tricks to “keep” me.  God holds you because God made you and within you is the essence of God; you are knit together by the fabric of God.

Touch God by choosing to stand quite still in your hour of hate and fear.  Stand still.  Reach for nothing, not for a person or a drink or a dollar or a book.  Stand still until you have calmed down enough to hear your own heart speaking, murmuring to you, “You are OK.  You are perfect.  You are beloved.  You are important.  You are unique in all the world.  You have inside of you everything you will ever need to be at peace, to be happy in all circumstances because you are host to the Lover of your Soul, God.”