A Life in Tension
Another year is nearing its end. I can’t believe it, but as my late brother in law Ingemar used to say: for a four year old one year is a very long time, but for a sixty-eight year old it is short. It can be explained by the fact that you consciously or sub-consciously always relate the one year to the total number of years you have added to your life so far, i.e. to Jakob my grandson one year is 25% of his total life, for me it is only 1.5%. Sobering facts!
The message this Christmas is that while we as humans tend to strive for that which should be harmony and situations without tensions, the Christian gospel is at all times a wakeup call saying that such an attitude is a false attitude. The old Simeon blessed the Jesus child but also said to his mother: “This child is destined to be a sign that will be rejected” (Luke 2.34). Life, at its best, is a life in tension. Tension is in fact life. One of the greatest thinkers in South Africa, Professor Paul Cilliers, in philosophy at Stellenbosch, who suddenly died during the prime of his life a few months ago, states as a mere fact when opening the door to a rather new field of study, that of complexity (for example that of various social organizations), that “equilibrium is death”. When everything is in balance, one would think that that is what we should be striving for. Not so; a situation when everything seemingly is in balance is in fact a situation of death. I am here on purpose transposing insights within a philosophical discipline onto everyday life in order to stir us up a bit.
My life as a Christian is a life of unfulfilled ambitions and tasks, but let us not be fooled by this state of affairs. My life is like a grain of sand on the beach, and yet we are all counted and cared for and named by a loving God. It is a situation of great tension. I do not deny that there are moments that could be seen as harmony, total identification, as balance and indeed equilibrium. The previous blog (Walking through the valley of darkness, 18 December) is a reminder of that. But to think that this is all you get, that this is the end, that is a misunderstanding. With God we are created for greater things than even these moments of bliss. That is why to the end of my days, it has to be a life of struggle, of giving hope to those without hope, of telling the truth to those who exploit, who enrich themselves at the expense of others, who live a life of selfish abundance; it also has to be a life of honest self-criticism, of daring to see the truth about myself, but doing it in the presence of the loving, forgiving and gracious Almighty God.