Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Something about union with God (with quotes by Calvin and Owen)

So I have read the final chapter of One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, the one that set the internet all aflame. The truth is, I wasn’t much troubled by it. Perhaps because I was expecting something quite outrageous, given what I had read in reviews. But I have to say, some of them were really quite misleading. For starters, the author doesn’t randomly fly off to Paris to find God. She is invited by a friend who has an apartment in Paris for the summer to come to stay for a week, so, after much consideration with her family, she works hard to overcome her Agorophobia and gets on a plane for the first time ever, leaving her six home-schooled children behind with her farming husband, and flies to Paris.

What happens there is something I would describe as more of a personal epiphany about what union with Christ means, than some kind of spiritual (or sexual) climax (though she does refer to "the climax of joy"). Have we not all had these? She does use the word consummation, and, um, other words. And granted, I would not have written some of it myself (not without blushing), but she begins by looking at John 14:20 and 15:4, then Ephesians 5:31-32:
‘A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 
Then she actually quotes John Calvin (yes, Calvin, incase you missed it), saying this:
God very commonly takes on the character of a husband to us. Indeed, the union by which he binds us to himself when he receives us into the bosom of the church is like sacred wedlock. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.18 (2:385).)
And then this, also from Calvin:
Therefore that joining together of head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.10 (2:737).)
This chapter is part of her discovery of what it means to be loved by God, and she quotes CS Lewis as saying something to the effect that the most fundamental thing is not how we think of God but rather what God thinks of us (from The Weight of Glory) leading into a quote of Jeremiah 31:3. She does then quote Teresa of Avila, writing something which sounds rather a lot like the answer to “what is the chief end of man?” from the Westminster Catechism. Then comes John Owen, that great Puritan theologian, saying:
Would a soul continually eye His everlasting tenderness and compassion ... [then] it could not bear an hour’s absence from Him; whereas now, perhaps, it cannot watch with Him one hour. (Communion with the Triune God (Crossway, 2007), 124.)
Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from Him; but if the heart be once much taken with the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot but choose be overpowered, conquered, and endeared to Him. (Communion with the Triune God (Crossway, 2007), 128.)
Voskamp also does make a point of saying that this can take place anywhere “in the kitchen scrubbing potatoes, in the arching cathedrals, in the spin of laundry and kids and washing toilets”. So, while she gets all enthused standing in front of a painting of the Supper at Emmaus, by Rembrandt, listening to a choir singing Mozart, in the Louvre, I don’t think she means to imply she found something in Paris that could not be found elsewhere. It was just a moment of awareness, for her.

So, no, I was not shocked or horrified. It's true that some might find this whole level of “experience” somewhere beyond them, but I don’t think it warrants the alarm it has caused. (And this has all been an exercise for me in how we can steer a perception of a thing based on which parts we choose to pull out of it (because maybe I have pulled out sections here to suit my audience as well ... though if I flick through the footnotes of this book there are more Reformed theologians quoted than "mystics") and also how we can glean what we choose from a thing.)

And I am so ridiculous that I have actually taken out a notebook and begun a list of 1,000 things I am thankful for.


Meredith said...

Not ridiculous at all my friend. I have really enjoyed your posts on this book and to be honest, your courage to write these posts. And you have done a wonderful job at dispelling our prejudices. Good especially for we Australian bloggers to read, I think.

I also think it is a great thing to practice gratitude. That little book of yours will become a volume of great joy and encouragement, I am sure.

Ali said...

Thank you Meredith. I wondered whether I might get myself scratched off the list of "sound theology" blogs somewhere and added to the "dodgy" one, but you could do yourself a lot more harm than to read this book.

I actually might have another post about why I am writing the list. The point is made that sometimes you need to do something, rather than read books that treat of your condition, and I thought 'gulp - that's exactly what I do, read books, and perhaps I need to implement some action'!