This was one of four items that found its way onto my desk this week:
‘The Dungeon’ – Coleridge
And this place our forefathers made for man!
This is the process of our love and wisdom,
To each poor brother who offends against us –
Most innocent, perhaps and what if guilty?
Is this the only cure? Merciful God!
Each pore and natural outlet shrivelled up
By Ignorance and parching Poverty,
His energies roll back upon his heart,
And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison,
They break out on him, like a loathsome plague-spot;
Then we call in our pampered mountebanks –
And this is their best cure! uncomforted
And friendless solitude, groaning and tears,
And savage faces, at the clanking hour,
Seen through the steam and vapours of his dungeon,
By the lamp’s dismal twilight! So he lies
Circled with evil, till his very soul
Unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!
With other ministrations thou, O Nature!
Healest thy wandering and distempered child:
Thou pourest on him thy soft influences,
Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets,
Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,
Till he relent, and can no more endure
To be a jarring and a dissonant thing
Amid this general dance and minstrelsy;
But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,
His angry spirit healed and harmonized
By the benignant touch of Love and Beauty.
The other three being my careful reading of Elshtain’s ‘Democracy on Trial’, a brief discussion with someone about the freedom of the Holy Spirit and my recent attachment to a song from Canadian three-piece band, Thousand Foot Krutch.
This may all sound a little dislocated, as in all four genres are unrelated; if so it is because they are and yet they aren’t. The themes within each are similar and it is this discernible connection that has me intrigued.
I have settled on labelling this link ‘permission to speak freely’. It is a loose category but one that seems to best fit the interwoven nexus observed here.
When I am encountered by something like this I generally make an effort to slow down enough in order to hear what is being said. Some readers will know right away that this repeated and discernible “voice” before us can be the Holy Spirit unveiling some truth, delivering correction or affirming a direction. Although I have some reservations I would agree with that conclusion.
Of course this means that we need to actively discern and then determine whether or not this “word” is free from the manipulation of others or that it isn’t just a construct of our own imagination. Something which might occur because of excessive anxiety or some other ailment.
To do this we examine content critically. Matching what we hear and the form of it with an authority such as the Bible, theology and community. Keeping in mind that: ‘scripture is the primary organ of the voice of God in the church. Thus, it will stand over-against the church; and the voice of God must not be confused with the voice of the church’ (2010:1752-1753, Kindle Ed.).
When we are being constantly made aware of a particular “something”; such as a discernible pattern, theme, consistent word or message, it is likely that God is whispering something sweet as well as potentially transformative into our lives.
The statement ‘permission to speak freely’ is itself to be regarded as being both political and theological. The former, because it is grounded in the promise of the democratic right to freedom of speech (classical liberalism), and the latter because the Christian understanding reveals a reconciliation affected by the incarnation of Christ, between a rebellious and therefore unfree humanity and our free creator.
Humanity can as a consequence, speak and approach Him freely. Realising a living relationship with God can exist, does exist and is one that God longs for. For example the covenant formula: I will be your God and you will be my people.
In sum, the four working theses which can arrived at here:
First: Gagging God may serve to fuel denial of His existence, but in the end it just perpetuates ignorance. This falls in line perhaps with Coleridge’s lament – Humanity ‘lies circled with evil, till his very soul, unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!’.
Second: Gagging God does not delegitimise the potency or reality of what He has spoken and still speaks today.
Third: Gagging God as he speaks to us through the Biblical documents is hypocritical and unscientific. Eliminating the possibility for us to hear God, as he speaks, serves a narrow political agenda in much the same way that name dropping Christ in the malicious service of confusing rights with wants does.
Fourth: In gagging God we fall prey to a ‘politics of resentment, the collapse of distinctions where we gradually lose the right to call things by their real names’ (Elshtain 1995:38). There are multiple examples of this happening. Particularly from the 20th century where citizens in “free” countries have fallen victim to superstition, oppressive regimes, and mundane routines brought about by impersonal industrialization and excessive-sometimes-murderous consumption.
We must allow the God of the Scriptures the same permission to speak (His word) as freely as we allow ourselves to speak. Coleridge’s ‘benignant touch of love and beauty that heals and harmonizes an angry spirit – calls for confession – a bursting into tears’; (benignant: a kindness and warm courtesy from a King to His subjects). If `God speaks to us through communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him…the church in its commission must then seek to obey by listening and responding’ (Karl Barth, CD 1.1, 1936:55).
Do you agree with my tentative conclusions here? Rhetorically: If so is there any discernible evidence this week, where the Holy Spirit might have been or is perhaps still speaking to you?
Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics 1.1: the doctrine of the Word of God , Hendrickson Publishers
Coleridge, S.T The complete Poems Penguin Classics
Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy on Trial, Basic Books Perseus Books Group
Jensen, M & Wilhite, D. 2010 Church: A Guide for the Perplexed Kindle Edition.