Sunday, September 2, 2012

Graham Greene and the Love of God

graham greene coversMy very favorite kind of book to read is fiction that wrestles with life and God through story, but that is written from someone outside the evangelical world. I just finished one of those books.

My college literature professor, Dr. Rosalie de Rosset, introduced me to Graham Greene, particularly his four books that blatantly wrestle with faith.  The book I just read is The Heart of the Matter, which walks through war-time colonial Sierra Leone through the eyes of a British major who is increasingly depressed. Greene's bio says that he was bipolar and attempted suicide several times as a teenager, which puts a really personal touch on the desperate search of major Scobie for internal peace.

I was so struck by this paragraph, which comes as Scobie contemplates suicide.

No one can speak a monologue for long alone - another voice will always make itself heard; every monologue sooner or later becomes a discussion. So now he couldn't keep the other voice silent; it spoke from the cave of his body... You say you love me, and yet you'll do this to me - rob me of you for ever. I made you with love. I've wept your tears. I've saved you for more than you will ever know; I planted in you this longing for peace only so that one day I could satisfy your longing and watch your happiness. And now you push me away, you put me out of your reach. There are no capital letters to separate us when we walk together. I am not Thou but simply you, when you speak to me; I am humble as any other beggar. Can't you trust me as you'd trust a faithful dog? I have been faithful to you for two thousand years. All you have to do now is ring a bell, go into a box, confess... the repentance is already there, straining at your heart.

Greene's writings and characters and even the actions and voice of God are unconventional and rarely wrap up neatly into a redeemed package.

Still, I thought about that paragraph all day, and again when I read the first chapter Richard Foster's Prayer.  Foster makes dry theologian types uncomfortable. "This book is about a love relationship: an enduring, continuing, growing love relationship with the great God of the universe. And overwhelming love invites a response. Loving is the syntax of prayer. To be effective pray-ers, we need to be effective lovers."

I'm in a season right now in which I am pondering what it looks like to love God as an adult. My faith grew and was deepened in the emotionalism of the teenage years and in the evangelical subculture that emphasizes emotionalism (sometimes over and above everything else). My faith became my own through understanding history and culture and theology and really the opposite side of things, the intellectual side of faith.

And yet the center of it all has always been the verse I picked as a 14 year old to be my life verse.

 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
(Philippians 3:8)

Knowing Him.  I constantly ask what that means. I am reading the gospel of Luke now with the intent of looking at Jesus specifically, to see with fresh eyes who He was, what He was like. I want to know Him, and scripture is clear that really knowing Him means loving Him and being loved by Him.

It's different than the emotionalism of the teenage years, just as much as real love is different that the infatuation of a first crush. But oh, real love still includes the heart, and so this adult love of God also includes emotion, both of God for me, for all of us.... and from me as I respond to His grace.

Today the morning air was perfect and I went outside to the hammock and marvelled as the wind blew leaves off the trees like rain, and birds chirped and the roosters crowed across the street, and Judah wandered around me. Being outside helps my heart be still in wonder and awe, and I think again of Greene's portrayal of a God who humbles Himself in a desperate fight for the soul of a man ready to give up


Emily said...

I loved this post. Thank you.

*Have you read Gilead?

*I love, love, love Richard Foster. I have for years and now I'm actually going to a church he used to pastor! So that's fun.

Kacie said...

I have read Gilead. Definitely a fav!

nathan johnson said...

I love graham greene and Dr. De Rossett introduced him to me as well. I really love The End of the Affair. great post!